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God’s Red Pencil? CRISPR and The Three Myths of Precise Genome Editing

crispr-cas9

by Jonathan Latham, PhD

For the benefit of those parts of the world where public acceptance of biotechnology is incomplete, a public relations blitz is at full tilt. It concerns an emerging set of methods for altering the DNA of living organisms. “Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up; “We Have the Technology to Destroy All Zika Mosquitoes“; and “CRISPR: gene editing is just the beginning”. (CRISPR is short for CRISPR/cas9, which is short for Clustered Regularly-Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/CRISPR associated protein 9; Jinek et al., 2012. It is a combination of a guide RNA and a protein that can cut DNA.) … Continue Reading

The Health Care Doctors Forgot: Why Ordinary Food Will Be the Future of Medicine

February 3, 2014 Commentaries, Health 16 Comments
Apple and a Pear

by T Colin Campbell, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus, Cornell University

Few issues have become so intensely debated and politically charged as the need to reform the health care system. This debate has resulted in the ObamaCare program (The Affordable Care Act), which aims to expand and improve health care, thereby reducing health care costs.

Presently, US health care costs constitute 18% of GDP, up from about 5% around 1970 (1). These costs are burdensome and many sectors of our society are paying the price. School programs are being scaled back because of the escalating costs of retiree health care benefit programs, as illustrated in Michigan where they are “laying off teachers, scrapping programs and mothballing extracurricular activities…[because of]…health care bills of retirees.“(2). … Continue Reading

Still Chasing Ghosts: A New Genetic Methodology Will Not Find the “Missing Heritability”

September 19, 2013 Commentaries, Health 26 Comments
Search for the missing heritability

By Evan Charney, Duke Institute for Brain Science, Duke University

One of the hopes and promises of the Human Genome Sequencing Project was that it would revolutionize the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of most human disorders. It would do this by uncovering the supposed “genetic bases” of human behavior. With a few exceptions, however, the search for common gene variants -“polymorphisms” – associated with common diseases has borne little fruit. And when such associations have been found the polymorphisms seem to have little predictive value and do little to advance our understanding of the causes of disease. In a 2012 study, for example, researchers found that incorporating genetic information did not improve doctors’ ability to predict disease risk for breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis [1]. … Continue Reading

Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA

May 13, 2012 Health, Reviews Comments Off on Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA
Biology as Ideology

Book Author: Richard Lewontin

Reviewed by: Jonathan Latham (The Bioscience Resource Project)

Biologists know that complex traits are typically associated with genetic variation between individuals. Nevertheless, if we hear on the news that obesity, antisocial behaviour or some other disorder has a strong genetic component, we are likely to attach special significance to this ‘fact’. We may be less likely to attribute social factors as a cause and we may be more likely to accept a technological or pharmaceutical solution as a remedy. The disorder may also acquire a credibility and a sense of inevitability that it previously lacked. The reasoning that leads to these conclusions has a certain logic, after all we investigate causes primarily so that we can find remedies, but nevertheless we need to be careful that our thinking is well-founded.

… Continue Reading

‘Phantom Heritability’ Indicates Poor Predictive Value of Gene Tests

DNA Sequencing Machines

Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK (photo credit: jurvetson)

Last week, a paper on “phantom heritability” was published by a research group led by Eric Lander, one of the leading contributors to understanding the implications of the Human Genome Project (HGP) for common, complex diseases such as heart disease and cancer (1). The paper has created excitement amongst scientists who have been critical of the claims made for the likely impacts of the HGP on health and medicine. This is not because the paper makes a startling new discovery, but because it is an important step towards recognition of these long standing criticisms. … Continue Reading

Psychiatrists plead to continue funding of genetic approaches to disease

August 30, 2011 Health, News 5 Comments

Jonathan Latham

Ninety six leading psychiatric geneticists have publicly requested their scientific funding agencies not to abandon the search for genetic links to mental health. In a letter, published Aug 9th in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they argue that the ongoing failure to uncover significant disease genes for mental illness does not indicate that current research is fundamentally misdirected.

Instead, they believe that current experimental designs lack sufficient statistical power. And it is a defect they want remedied by further studies. “Since family history is a major risk factor” they write “we urge the major funding bodies worldwide to continue to support GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Studies) as a major investigative tool’. … Continue Reading

23andMe disproves its own business model

July 7, 2011 Health, News 2 Comments

Jonathan Latham

Online gene testing company 23andMe last week published its first genetic research study into Parkinson’s Disease. The study was funded by the participants (many of whom are customers of 23andMe), the company itself, and Google-founder Sergei Brin, who is married to 23andMe’s CEO and founder, Anne Wojcicki (1). Wojcicki is also personally subsidising the company and is a co-author on the paper.

23andMe’s study shows that two new genes it has discovered, plus all known existing genes linked to the disease, are not much better than random selection for predicting who will get Parkinson’s Disease. … Continue Reading

The Great DNA Data Deficit: Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?

Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Just before his appointment as head of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Francis Collins, the most prominent medical geneticist of our time, had his own genome scanned for disease susceptibility genes. He had decided, so he said, that the technology of personalised genomics was finally mature enough to yield meaningful results. Indeed, the outcome of his scan inspired The Language of Life, his recent book which urges every individual to do the same and secure their place on the personalised genomics bandwagon.

… Continue Reading

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Commentaries

Organic Farmers Are Not Anti-Science but Genetic Engineers Often Are

Elizabeth-Henderson (photo courtesy Audrey Horn)

by Elizabeth Henderson At one of the public brainstorming sessions for the New York Organic Action Plan, an organic farmer made an impassioned plea for support for “independent science” and told us that with 8.5 billion mouths to feed by 2050, we will need genetic engineering to prevent starvation. I …

Unsafe at any Dose? Diagnosing Chemical Safety Failures, from DDT to BPA

US Chemical Production

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Piecemeal, and at long last, chemical manufacturers have begun removing the endocrine-disrupting plastic bisphenol-A (BPA) from products they sell. Sunoco no longer sells BPA for products that might be used by children under three. France has a national ban on BPA food packaging. The EU has banned …

God’s Red Pencil? CRISPR and The Three Myths of Precise Genome Editing

crispr-cas9

by Jonathan Latham, PhD For the benefit of those parts of the world where public acceptance of biotechnology is incomplete, a public relations blitz is at full tilt. It concerns an emerging set of methods for altering the DNA of living organisms. “Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle …

Biofuel or Biofraud? The Vast Taxpayer Cost of Failed Cellulosic and Algal Biofuels

The now-bankrupt Kior site in Columbus, Mississippi

By Almuth Ernsting Biofuels consumed today are usually ethanol made from the sugar in sugar cane (or sugar beet) or they may be made from starch in grains. In the US this is mostly corn starch. Alternatively, biodiesel may be made from plant oils such as soybean or canola oil.

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Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

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