Genetic jiggery-pokery.

  genetics genetic_engineering information dna structure crispr data_storage computation processing

It's long been known that DNA encodes information in a four-bit pattern which can be read and processed like any other bitstream. Four different nucleotides, paired two by two, arranged in one of two configurations side by side by side in a long string of letters, many times longer than the size of the cell containing the full DNA strand. Every cell in every single lifeform contains the same DNA sequence, regardless of what the cell actually does. So how, many have asked, does a cell know if it should help produce hair, or skin, or pigments, or something else …

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Hacking DNA. No, really.

  dna crispr viruses hiv genetics esoteric_programming_languages editing here_there_be_nerds hacking logic

Last year a new genetic engineering technology called CRISPR - Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats - showed up on my radar at a local conference. Long story short, CRISPR is a highly precise technique for editing DNA in situ which follows from the discovery of short sequences of DNA which allow for precise location of individual genes. It's a fascinating technology; there are even tutorials (archived copy, just in case) online for developing your own guide RNA to implement CRISPR/Cas9. What you might not have known is that CRISPR/Cas9 is being actively studied as a theraputic technique in humans …

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Notes from the Transhuman Superpowers and Longevity Conference - 12 July 2015

  autonomy big_questions biotech conference crispr death dna enhancement futurism genetics hormones immunization law longevity medical_treatment molecular_biology morphological_freedom notes pharmaceuticals philosophy regenerative_medicine superheroes

And now, hopefully sooner than the last set, my notes taken during the Transhuman Superpowers and Longevity Conference held on 12 July 2015 in Oakland, CA. Everything's behind the cut, with references as applicable. Personal observations (are on separate lines in parenthesis) to differentiate them from the speaker's material. Vertical Farm Civilization - Karl Doerrer

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Controlling genes by thought, DNA sequencing in 90 minutes, and cellular memory.

  biotech computing cybernetics data dna eeg forensics genetic_engineering genetics hardware law_enforcement optogenetics sequencing storage

A couple of years ago the field of optogenetics, or genetically engineering responsiveness to visible light to exert control over cells was born. In a nutshell, genes can be inserted into living cells that allow certain functions to be switched on or off (such as the production of a certain hormone or protein) in the presence or absence of a certain color of light. Mostly, this has only been done on an experimental basis to bacteria, to figure out what it might be good for. As it happens to turn out, optogenetics is potentially good for quite a lot of …

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Genetically modified high school grads, stem cell treatment for diabetes, and deciphering memory engrams.

  bioengineering biotech diabetes encoding experiences genetics memories mitochondria stem_cells

A couple of years ago I did an article on the disclosure that mitochondrial genetic modifications were carried out on thirty embryos in the year 2001 to treat mitochondrial diseases that would probably have been fatal later in life. I also wrote in the article that this does not constitute full scale genetic modification ala the movie Gattaca. It is true that mitochondria are essential to human life but they do not seem to influence any traits that we usually think about, such as increased intelligence or hair color, as they are primarily involved in metabolism. In other words, mitochontrial …

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The line between organic and electronic continues to blur.

  computing dna genetics synthetic_biology

Long time readers are no doubt familiar with my facination with the subject of biological computing, using organic structures to process and represent information rather than silicon-hybrid substrates. When you get right down to it, DNA is an information storage and representation system, just like the tape upon which a notional Turing machine reads and writes symbols. Using this metaphor (which isn't nearly as tortured as it sounds), the ribosomes of eukaryotic cells would be the Turing machines that read the tape and carry out the operations (protein synthesis) encoded in the nucleotides.

Not too long ago the field advanced …

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Post-biological proof of concept lab experiments and genetic anomalies.

  biochemistry bioengineering biotech diagnostics fertility_treatment genetics in_vitro mitochondria nanoelectronics sensors tissue

Yesterday afternoon I posted an article about synthetic nucleic acids and processing of arbitrary information from the field of synthetic biology. To recap briefly, by adding synthetic components to bioengineered bacteria researchers have been able to represent and manipulate information with XNA, a variant of DNA which involves synthetic compounds in addition to the four naturally found in DNA. One of the commenters on that post is working somewhere in that field and mentioned a few of the things that can be done with those custom-designed nucleic acids. This reminded me of another article I've had in my to-write queue …

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Newborns tested for genetic diseases. Parents surprised.

  archival biotech children disease ethics genetics laws testing usa

In the United States, genetic testing of newborns for inherited diseases began quietly sometime in the 1960's; the technology of the time, understandably, was in its infancy so it didn't detect a whole lot. Jump forward a half-decade, and you will find that the practice is still going on, plus it's mandatory in every state, and you might not be aware it's been done. Anna Brown gave birth to a bouncing baby girl a while ago (the article doesn't say when), and was understandably shocked when her pediatrician sat her down to tell her that her daughter Isabel carried a …

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Genetic origins of skin and lung cancer pinpointed.

  biotech cancer genetics lung medicine patent_law research skin us

It is common knowledge that many forms of cancer have environmental as well as genetic components: for skin cancer, overexposure to sunlight can trigger its development. Lung cancer, of course, is blamed on smoking for lengthy periods of time. However, sometimes the genetic component can express itself without external assistance. Thus, it is worth noting that the genetic mutations which cause these two afflictions have been pinpointed by geneticists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute of the United Kingdom. The errors are very specific and should be readily detectable with a genetic workup. Something which I find surprising is the …

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Another step closer to artificial life - an artificial chromosome.

  artificial_chromosome bacteria bioengineering genetics mycoplasma san_diego

Geneticist Craig Venter of San Diego, California has made a significant breakthrough in genetics and bioengineering after it's been verified by the scientific community (I have to throw that disclaimer for reasons that'll be made clear in a moment)... he's built a chromosome out of raw materials in vitro.

Yeah. Not only did Venter's team, lead by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Hamilton O. Smith hooked synthetic nucleotides together one by one into a strand of DNA 580,000 base pairs in length, coding for 381 distinct genes, and then got the DNA to coil up into a chromosome. The synthetic …

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