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Archive for February, 2019


Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

The CRISPR gene editing system is a major technical advance. It does open up the near term possibility of making a few small changes to a human embryo’s DNA, but I don’t find that particularly interesting or alarming.

What makes CRISPR better than previous tech for gene modification is that it works at high efficiency–1% to 60% with very high specificity. I read a recent paper testing CRISPR on human embryos that reported 50% effectiveness. Given a handful of embryos to work with, there is a very good chance of making a single change in one embryo.

We have very little knowledge or technology for making positive changes to animals which is a huge limitation to genetic ‘engineering’. Mostly what is understood are disease causing (or predisposing) genetic variants. So a single change (maybe in a few years, a handful of changes?) can be made to a human embryo. There are other limits to modifying human embryos apart from lack of knowledge. The more time an embryo or human embryonic stem cell is cultured, the more it is manipulated, the greater the chance of something going wrong, and the child being born with problems. This tech is great for manipulating animals in the lab. If many or most of them have the genetic change, great! If some are born with defects, cull them, or breed another generation and use those in experiments (often the first generation has non-genetic defects that breed away). But these are huge problems if you are working on humans, because things that increase the risk of getting a damaged child are not desirable.

Long term (100-1000 years), when increases in understanding of biology make improvements (or significant changes of any sort) in humans possible, I think what we’ll see is that the people with the least concern for child welfare will be the most willing to experiment on them.

The really exciting possibilities CRISPR opens up is in genetic treatment of human disease in the tissues of kids and adults. There is delivery tech (well tested viral vectors, and a host of other methods) that can get CRISPR into a good percentage of cells (10% to 50+%) in many tissues, and once there, CRISPR will edit a good fraction of those cells. For many diseases, fixing a genetic defect in 1%, 10% or 20% of cells is enough to treat the disease, so genetic treatment of host of diseases is now possible. Things like hemophilia, some muscular dystrophy, maybe Huntington’s Disease, metabolic diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and on and on. There will be a lot of exciting advances turning that ‘possible’ into actual treatments for different diseases over the next decade or two.

The other major effect of CRISPR tech is that it makes animal experimentation faster and cheaper, and will accelerate basic biological research. We still don’t know what the majority of indivdual genes do, let alone how they work in complexes and networks in cells.

Links for February 2019

Monday, February 4th, 2019

Bizarre Paintings Of Mecha Robots And Werewolves Attacking East European Peasants Of The Early 20th Century by Polish artist Jakub Rozalski
2019 Sequencing Tech Speculations: Will We Actually See New Entrants?

Novel Benzodiazepine-Like Ligands with Various Anxiolytic, Antidepressant, or Pro-Cognitive Profiles, link.
-Improves mood and age-related memory loss.

Under the Boot: Max Boot’s conversion narrative proves one thing—he hasn’t changed a bit. by Lyle Jeremy Rubin

Kompromat: Or, Revelations from the Unpublished Portions of Andrea Manafort’s Hacked Texts. by Maya Gurantz

Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? by Rowan Jacobsen

It was already well established that rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and overall mortality all rise the farther you get from the sunny equator, and they all rise in the darker months. Weller put two and two together and had what he calls his “eureka moment”: Could exposing skin to sunlight lower blood pressure?

Sure enough, when he exposed volunteers to the equivalent of 30 minutes of summer sunlight without sunscreen, their nitric oxide levels went up and their blood pressure went down.

A Brad DeLong explains why it’s time to give democratic socialists a chance

“The baton rightly passes to our colleagues on our left.”

Paul Krugman Asked Me About Modern Monetary Theory. Here Are 4 Answers: Deficit levels, interest rates and the tradeoff between fiscal and monetary policy. by Stephanie Kelton

Stephen Wolfram: Seeking the Productive Life: Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure

The MBA Myth and the Cult of the CEO
CEOs don’t play much of a role in driving stock price performance, and the “aligned incentives” of equity incentive pay don’t change behavior in any way that benefits shareholders. The “best and brightest” — those executives with the most dazzling CVs and track records — don’t perform any better than less credentialed executives.

Harmony of Means and Ends: “theory of politics” by Cosma Shalizi

Socialists Win Big in Chicago: In city elections this week, progressive candidates shocked the Democratic machine. by Miles Kampf-Lassin

Review of Whiteshift by Eric Kaufmann
Kaufmann focuses on the “ethno” part [in ethnonationalism], arguing that mainstream politicians need to more openly cater to white concerns about cultural and demographic change if they wish to beat back the far-right tide.

Potluck Economics from Existential Comics

Number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. declined over the past decade


Conversion of the solar fuel from norbornadiene to quadricyclane uses sunlight, reversed by a catalyst to release heat. ref, news.

Sleep is still a mystery.

Mac OSX Bash Profile

Recent US election results:
2016 President:
Donald J. Trump 63.0 million votes
Hillary R. Clinton 65.8 million votes

In 2018, Americans got some of what they want:
Democratic House candidates 59.0 million votes
Republican House candidates 50.3 million votes