This article contains my personal opinions and musings.
Today is the start of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. This year’s olympics has faced a number of controversies – one of which is somewhat pertinent to biology, the issue of gender and sex. The olympics, like many sporting institutions, has long separated competitors into two main categories – male and female. This would be simple, if sex determination was so discrete. But sex is not discrete, it is a spectrum which at best can be described as two common clusters of phenotypes around what we call ‘male’ and ‘female’. Even chromosomal sex is not as simple as XX vs XY – there are common cases of XXY and XYY and other varieties. Genitals don’t always follow the chromosomal pattern either, and hormone diversity (which drives development) creates an effective continuum between male and female. Individuals significantly between both sexes are often referred to as “intersex” but even then the line between intersex and being one sex or another is a blurred one.
A recent study [PDF] by a group led by Andrew Shtulman at Occidental College, has found that humans may fundamentally be opposed to non-intuitive facts. Even though you may learn a fact and willingly accept it as true, your brain resists and will never properly replace its intuitive notions (such as the idea of the world being flat, or the idea that larger objects fall faster). You can suppress your natural beliefs, but this study implies that you may never be able to replace them.
When students learn scientific theories that conflict with earlier, naïve theories, what happens to the earlier theories? Our findings suggest that naïve theories are suppressed by scientific theories but not supplanted by them.
In a recent article on the study John Lehrer of the New Yorker argues a link between these findings and the depressingly low adoption of belief in evolution in America.
A biochip is an invention by Stephen Quake which uses microfluids to vastly improves the ability of biologists to do research. By automating and streamlining otherwise tedious tasks, biochips speed up tasks and save valuable human time. They also, in doing so, allow previously unfeasible experiments to be done – broadening the reach of science. Stephen Quake’s group isn’t the only one working on chips like these, but he did just win the Lemelson-MIT prize (the “oscar for inventors”) for his work. This sort of technology will contribute significantly to the progress of the genetic revolution, rapidly speeding up the work of biologists everywhere. Singularity Hub ran an article on Stephen Quakes work here. Also check out his TEDxCaltech talk on his work from 2011 after the break.
Gregory Karbnick is a researcher scholar at the Hasting Center who studies bioethics. In the following video he gives a brief testimony at the House Committee on Energy and Commerece in 2010. In this testimony he talks about the ethics of the field of Synthetic Biology. He divides the ethical issues into two categories: intrinsic concerns and concerns about potential consequences – and makes a case that regulation and governance of the field should come primarily from the latter category. Watch the video after the break.
George Church is a significant researcher in the fields of genetics and synthetic biology. In this article from 2010, his background and some of his opinions and goals are expressed. Church is closely involved with the Personalised Genome Project which seeks to push forward personalised genetics and thus medical technology. This project has a number of controversial aspects though and raises questions about what is appropriate as public information and what is not.
Read the article here to find out more.