Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.
California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.
Continue reading “California: Hotbed of Innovation”
Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech by Sally Smith Hughes is an engaging look at the birth of a new type of industry, the field of biotechnology. Research with the natural sciences has always been an academic pursuit, to figure out how the world and everything in it functions. However, in the 1970s, as biology and chemistry continued to develop alongside technology, business was bound to get involved. Hughes, as a scientific historian from the hotbed of technology and biotech in California, details the entire life of the first Biotech company, Genentech. Her genealogy of the story on this small, yet influential company begins with the technique of producing recombinant DNA and the capacity to produce a large amount of clones of the desired DNA. From this scientific breakthrough, a few key players would emerge, and eventually start Genentech, with a goal of using recombinant DNA to make industrial products. Continue reading “Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology”
We briefly talked about phage therapy in class, but I still didn’t quite understand how it actually related to Cohen’s work with plasmid DNA (Hughes, pg 17-19). My research lead me to an article that explains both the nature and potential applications of bacteriophages. I learned that bacteriophages are viruses that target bacteria for the purposes of viral reproduction, which in the process kills the host cell. Whereas Bacteria can, and many have, become increasingly resistant to anti-biotics, phages can actively evolve alongside their rapidly adaptive targets. From what I understand, the phages can more easily compete with bacteria than manmade anti-biotics and in the long run may prove more useful in medicinal practices; however, phages are limited in use to target bacteria with known susceptabilites to the specific therapeutic virus (Clokie.) I think it’s cool to see how DNA replication in cells can also be used to bolster our immunity against harmful bacteria.
“Furthermore, the 1976 guidelines concerned natural and complimentary DNA and contained no explicit reference to chemically synthesized DNA. The City of Hope chemists could therefore perform the gene synthesis work under ordinary lab conditions.” (Hughes, pg 92)
I really am fascinated by the seemingly radical difference that seems to exist between using natural DNA and synthetic DNA. Although we’ve discussed Genentech’s use of synthetic DNA and it’s moral advantage over natural DNA in class, we haven’t really ventured into the realm of the adjacent possible for the technology. If biotech scientists are able to synthesize entire sequences of DNA for practical use, why shouldn’t they be able to eventually create synthetic life? I found an article that details a biotech company’s success in adding two entirely new pair of nucleotide bases to the genetic code. Basically what their work has accomplished would allow for an incredible new amount of biodiversity for life on earth, assuming they can create a fully synthesized organism. Essentially, we could see ourselves playing the roles of gods. Again this sort of subject dwells within the gray “should we or should we not” territory, but I find the idea that we one day may be able to create life with a technology more unique than cloning one worth pursuing.
A passage that struck me in Chapter 12 brought up the subject of planted evidence. Weinberg recalls Fredriani’s statement during an interrogation regarding his DNA under Helena’s nails:
“As far as DNA evidence, oh, I’m sure you’ve got some DNA evidence that probably points to me. Where you got it, how you got it, that’s a whole different matter. I’ve been in your custody for a long time.” (Weinberg, pg 335)
After these words, he addresses the likelihood that police planted his DNA at the crime scene in order to the close the case. I searched for how often cases of planted evidence are recognized and found a website with several examples of shady policework; surprisingly, very few criminal cases a year involve planted evidence. Usually the officers involved in evidence planting have a vendetta against their targets, who can range from high profile suspects to ex-girlfriends and wives. Regardless as to whether Fredriani’s DNA was planted, I am not particuarly surprised that such an action, which is legally a crime, would be committed especially concerning the runningtime for this case and a longstanding, powerful desire to see Fredriani brought to justice.
DNA has been used to tie criminals to their crimes for years now, but how exactly does that process happen? What is DNA? How can it be matched to a suspect? How much DNA is necessary to be a useable sample? Is DNA enough to convict someone in a courtroom? Samantha Weinberg answers these questions and many more in her nonfiction book Pointing From the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA. This novel tells the true story about Dr. Helena Greenwood, a thriving marketing director at a biotechnology company. Greenwood worked at the forefront of the biotechnology world, and had her sights set on getting involved in DNA fingerprinting. In 1984, Dr. Greenwood was sexually assaulted at her home in San Francisco. She was set to be the key witness during the trial, but in 1985, she was murdered outside her home in San Diego. With a suspect, but no evidence, the case went cold for 15 years before the technology that Greenwood had been so hopeful about was the exact technology that set her case to rest. Continue reading “The Omnipresence of DNA”
In chapter 12, we get a closer look at Fredriani’s personal life after the trial. He manages to find a decent paying job as a truck driver before working his way into corporate society again, reconcile with his family through Andrea, and find love again with Eileen. Despite the sting of fortunate events, ruin continues to follow Fredriani’s every step as he loses both of his new families. I feel the most important factor to consider is Fredriani’s tendency to repeat destructive habits in his relationships; it seems that his wild side always pops out after a certain length of time with a new flame. Andrea’s comments about his physical abuse and Eileen’s concerning his “two personalities” may hint towards a fractured psyche that the man may just be unable to control. Regardless of whether Fredriani killed Greenwood or not, the man is in clear need of psychological help, which would address his emotional stability and pathological drive to extremely passionate relationships.
Two types of evidence found at the crime scene of Helena Greenwood’s assault were three strands of pubic hair, and a semen sample. Mona Ng, the criminologist who examined each piece of evidence, noted that:
“Two of the hairs could not be associated with the suspect Fredriani. The third hair could not be excluded as possibly coming from him.” – Weinberg, p89
After checking the FBI website for information on forensic hair analysis, I learned that hair evidence can easily determine the race of a suspect and even the sex or age, albeit with more difficulty. Even though two of the strands found couldn’t be linked to Fredriani, the third could have belonged to a number of other men of the same race; Dr. Ng further explained that 14% of population shares the blood type found in the semen sample, a statement which also expands the number of possible suspects when applied to the Bay Area alone. For these reasons I find it slightly illogical to convict Fredriani with what appears to be coincidental evidence.
Theoretical and Evolutional Networking Connections
Our physical, emotional and mentally evolving universe has many known limitations in fields of chemistry, biology, biotechnology and innovative sciences overall. These limitations are nothing but mental barriers that are bound to be overcame using the basis of innovation that our great ancestors founded many years ago. Where Good Ideas Come From written by Steven Johnson makes clear and somewhat short the long and tedious step-by-step process in which innovation progressed. In this science related nonfiction piece, Steve Johnson, a formidable writer and historian, talks about the different variations of ways in which ideas come to be, how they are/were implemented, the best ways these ideas can come to surface and how they contribute to the overall spectrum of innovative thinking. This writing contains a wealth of information relative to what everything is today and how it came to be, thus making it relevant and interesting to audiences of all sorts. Continue reading “Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From”
“All of us live inside our own private versions of the adjacent possible. In our work lives, in our creative pursuits, in the organizations that employ us, in the communities we inhabit – in all those different environments, we are surround by potential new configurations new ways of breaking out of our standard routines.” Johnson, p40
What I found interesting about this quote was the notion that we all reside in a personal bubble of the adjacent possible. If I live in the middle of the desert surrounded by a sea of sand and rocks, I would have access to a drastically different adjacent possible than someone living in a bustling city. I think it’s important to consider that the adjacent possible exists on separate planes for humans individually and as a species. Humanity’s adjacent possible expands as a result of individuals creating new technologies overtime and integrating them into the global network of possibility.
“After a formidable series of measurements in his Davis lab, Kleiber discovered that this scaling phenomenon stuck to an unvarying mathematical script called “negative quarter-power scaling.” If you plotted mass versus metabolism on a logarithmic grid, the result was a perfectly straight line that led from rats and pigeons all the way up to bulls and hippopotami.” Johnson, p8
Johnson goes on to describe how Kleiber’s equation to determine metabolic rates in differently sized species applies to the “metabolism” of cities. I never really thought of any city being one big organism, but in a way the thought makes sense. Cities exists as large networks of people working constantly to make the city grow and thrive. As more people come together within the confines of a city, they’re bound to form bigger and brighter ideas when so many unique minds have access to one another.
“Policy makers at the WTO had argued that patent rights would offer corporations security for their research and help speed the transfer of new technology from developed to developing countries. So far, however, the benefits have flowed largely in the opposite direction. Where patents have been granted over biological materials and the traditional knowledge of how to use such materials, researchers in developing countries are further access to their own biological resources.” Grace, p198
Patents are supposed to support technological advancements in developing countries, but the patent system primarily benefits corporations. Corporations directly steal profits away from developing nations by claiming intellectual property rights over their resources, which in turn forces those developing nations to pay for access to any technologies derived from their own natural resources. I don’t believe that patent laws hold any sort of favor for developing countries and simply serve to protect the interests of the already powerful developed world.