Breaking Tradition

” Yet despite this utitiarian strand in American Sscience, biomedical structure  into the late 1970s was notably inhospitable to professors forming consuming relationships with business, let alone taking the almost unheard of step of founding a company without giving up a professorship. Academic cultural tradition, the precarious political context of recombinant DNS research, and the fact that Cohen and Boyer had no desire to leave academia argues against either scientist giving serous consideration to forming a company”( Hughes, pg. 24).


I find it interesting that there were these notions about the science community and the mood towards relationships between business and academic research. It seems that these attitudes towards partnering business with universities stemmed from a notion that biomedical research was deemed more of a publicly funded affair, which was in turn ethically sound. Or at least the publicly funded science that was going on had a direct goal at aiding the public, whereas private funding could lead to an impurity in the research. The academic community needed to protect its sanctity. With one goal, the scientists could pursue their research without any outside factors that would affect them. Obviously economics has a an affect on science today, and I worry that it has lost it’s sense of purpose. With two different factors manipulating science we find ourselves having to question science.

The sciences are the basis for the intellectual world. The mere mention of the word brings a sense of legitimacy. It is shrouded in the idea that science is solid: the basis of pure research for the sake of helping others and advancing the scientific world. Science used to be so pure in it’s desire, but has now been lost in the world of industry.  In this day and age when money is integrated into science at such a base level, I find a lack of legitimacy on topics. There are still scientists who deny and debate climate change, there are still people making way to much money off disease, and the fact that business has a negative effects on medical research is indisputable. I can’t help but read this passage and wonder if it was here that medical research lost it’s path.

Breaking Tradition

Last Thoughts

Seeing as this is the last opportunity to discuss Pointing From The Grave in the commonplace book, I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions on the book. Overall, I thought this was a really intriguing book, not only because of the plot and storyline, but also because Samantha Weinberg does an excellent job of describing and educating readers about scientific information we read during the book. For example, before this book I didn’t even know a PCR machine existed, and after chapter 9 I was pretty much all filled in about how and why this machine is vital for investigators analyzing DNA. I also thought the way she covered events in the court room was stellar and she painted a perfect picture in my head about Frediani and his behavior. This book is not only just a true crime novel, but also a historical timeline of events that cover the progression of court cases and the revolution of biotechnology in the justice system.

Last Thoughts

Failing vs. Perfecting

“This is why it is just as useful to look at the sparks that failed, the ideas that found their way to a promising region of the adjacent possible but somehow collapsed there” (Johnson, 72).

I can see this as true because most of the time the people who failed were the first ones that acted upon their ideas. This in turn made others try the idea, which helped produce someone who actually succeeded on the idea. It is because the people that succeeded on a specific idea were only able to do it because they knew which path was already a failure, and which path was never tried yet. This had people creating so many ideas just to see if one of their ideas actually was the better one. Ultimately, all these people, failures and perfecters, actually helped produce ideas from generation to generation. That is something that is so important because if these people never acted on their ideas, who knows if we would be able to make helpful advances for our everyday life.

Failing vs. Perfecting

Ideas Come In Swarms

“If we’re going to try to explain the mystery of where ideas come from, we’ll have to start by shaking ourselves free of this common misconception: an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm” (Johnson, 45-46).

This sentence is important for us to understand. We as society tend to overlook the smaller details in the bigger picture. That is how we miss those moments where the smaller details actually mean the most. However, this is still a hard thing to do because we have so many things on our mind, I feel as if it is hard to interpret with all those ideas in our heads are actually ideas or just random thoughts. Although this may be the case, I’m kind of steering towards thinking that maybe all our thoughts in our head are all ideas, it just depends how you use those ideas in your life. You can choose to use it to benefit people, or just not use it at all and put it in the back of your mind. All and all, we must understand that an idea is not a single thing and that it is more like a swarm because everyday we are learning and seeing new things, which makes us produce many ideas everyday.

Quote

The Ever Changing World

“What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen.” (Johnson 31)

I find this to be a very powerful statement that provides some real inspiration. To me, this is the idea that anything can happen at any moment but no matter what it was, good or bad, it happened for a reason. It is the idea that change is natural and must be embraced rather than fought because if you fight it you will lose. This idea gives hope to those who are going through a rough time because it lets them know that things change and will continue to change so they may be down now but they know that it won’t always be that way. The world is always changing but these changes can only be certain things that can happen. Therefore, these changes must make sense according to the laws of nature and cannot possibly happen under the circumstances. The idea that the world is ever changing is a beautiful perception of reality and how we live our lives.

The Ever Changing World

Strategic Studying

“Science long ago realized that we can understand something better by studying its behavior in different contexts” (Johnson, 19).

This sentence is so very true just by looking at all the advances we have had in technology, medicine, and other helpful innovations. When we study things in different contexts, we can learn more about the thing we are studying about. This can help us produce ideas just from studying other ideas. That is why it is so important to understand that something or someone’s behavior can tell a lot about it. By studying their behavior in different situations, we can try to get a good sense on why the things act the way they act or think the way they think. I feel this strategy helps us as a country become healthier and stronger with every year that came. Furthermore, this can also help the world as a whole and strengthen us to spawn new ideas for generations to come.

Strategic Studying

The Importance of Having Multiple Suspects

“Detective Decker and Kelly learned a lot about Helena Greenwood in the last of the day she was murdered. They took down names of her friends and business associates, found out about her activities of the previous twenty four hours, her normal routine. And for the first time, they heard the name David Paul Frediani… You don’t focus on one person until you have done all the interviews and read all the lab reports.”- Weinberg (pp.74)

In a criminal investigation, especially murder, it is important to take on all considerations. In the case of Helena’s murder it is vital to consider a list of multiple suspects than to just point to obvious person. David Paul Frediani, is the obvious person to blame because of his criminal history and the impeding sexual assault trial. I think that the detectives investigating Helena’s murder are taking the right steps in order to pinpoint the culprit. Decker and Kelly are compiling a list of possible suspects, checking alibis,  and waiting for the lab reports to come in before accusing anyone of murder. Following this detective provides a solid base as to find a conclusion. Because when all other alternatives are ruled out, the one that remains must be the explanation.

The Importance of Having Multiple Suspects

Grace: Chapter 7

Ethical debates surrounding the usage and encouragement of biotechnology will only increase as time goes by. My prediction is this: the U.S. government will eventually become consumed by biotechnology in all facets of society, not just agriculture. Our patenting laws will have to comprise of more and more protections for the intellectual rights of innovators. Moreover, the legal playing field will soon begin to judge new ethical dilemmas in biotechnology that have never been conceived of in legal history.

Grace: Chapter 7

Insuffecient Evidence

“They have learned nothing new– the case rests on that single fingerprint found outside Helena Greenwood’s house, together with her testimony that he has the same “height and type of build” as the man who had attacked her thirteen months previously. He cannot believe that he will be convicted on such flimsy evidence..”-Weinberg (pp. 56)

Reading this passage from Pointing from the Grave got me interested in finding a case in where an individual was convicted of a crime solely on their fingerprints. It didn’t take too long until I found something a case. In the state of Indiana Lana Canen has been convicted of murder in 2002 for the murder of Helen Sailor. The conviction has made possible through using only fingerprint analysis. The detective of crime scene, Dennis Chapman, conducted the analysis based on fingerprints found on a prescription bottle at the crime scene. The analysis concluded that the fingerprints were a match even though detective Chapman did not have no training in latent print comparisons. “This was the only evidence against Canen and she was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison.” After the conviction, attorney Cara Wieneke believed that Lana Canen was innocent and appealed the case. Cara Wieneke hired and independent forensic analyst that concluded that the fingerprints of Canen and from the prescription bottle did not match. The report was used in court and got conviction turned over.

Reference:

http://californiainnocenceproject.org/2012/10/fingerprint-experts-mistake-leads-to-wrongful-conviction-in-indiana/

Insuffecient Evidence

The Use of Antibodies Today: Pregnancy Tests

“Paul Uhlenhuth, an assistant professor at the Institute of Hygiene in Griefswald, found a method of determining the origin of unknown blood using a precipitating antiserum.”- Weinberg (pp. 50)

The use of antibodies have came a long way for the use in science. One of the most useful, cost efficient, and easy tests made in our society are in pregnancy tests. Pregnancy tests contain antibodies within them that contain antibodies. These antibodies in the test binds to a hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin,  is secreted when a woman is pregnant. When present in urine the antibodies bind to the hormone and produce a positive result. The specificity of these antibodies for the hormone makes these pregnancy test very accurate for testing. Another uncommon found from using pregnancy tests is used to detect men’s testicular cancer. A study conducted found that the same HCG hormone secreted by women during pregnancy is also secreted in some cases of testicular cancer.

References:

Home pregnancy tests may detect men's cancer

The Use of Antibodies Today: Pregnancy Tests

Huntington’s Disease: An Autosomal Dominant Disorder

“Yet only a dew countries away, in an Austrian monastery, a fat amiable monk had already-literally-planted the first seeds of what came to be called genetics”-Weinberg (pp.29)

After reading the chapter third chapter. I found that it began explaining the precursors that led to the discovery of DNA. One of the scientists that helped contribute to this discovery is Gregor Mendel. His finding shows one way parents pass on their genetic traits onto their offspring. This sparked interest for me to search for inherited genetic disorders prevalent today. One of the diseases that I found was Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s disease is an “autosomal dominant allele” that gets passed on from parents on to their offspring. Describing Huntington’s disease as ‘”autosmal dominant” means to say that if a parent is affected with the disease then their children will also suffer from the same disease. And the children will pass on the disease to their children and so forth.  The signs and symptoms of this disease causes individuals to suffer from involuntary jerking, muscle problems, slowness in processing thoughts, social withdrawal, insomnia, and fatigue. With individuals affected with Huntington’s disease do not display signs at a young age they do appear around the ages of 35 to 40.

Currently, there is no cure for for Huntington disease. Physicians recommend affected patients to avoid pregnancy because of the high chance that their children will also suffer from the disorder.

References:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/huntingtons-disease/basics/symptoms/con-20030685

http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/Huntington-s-Disease-The-Discovery-of-the-85

Huntington’s Disease: An Autosomal Dominant Disorder

Patents Perpetuate Poverty

“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.

Quote

The Touchy Issue of Ethics

“Typical Concerns can be divided into a number of areas, ranging from biotechnology’s effects on the environment and human health to impacts on social and economic conditions and religious and moral values”(Grace, 192)

Advances in science have always brought up the question of ethics and wether it is right for something to be done when a new science finding. A new concept coming around is genetic testing, where you can go to your doctor and see if you have any genetic diseases that have been passed onto you or what you might carry. Should people be ble to have this info? what if it is a disease that cannot be treated, is it right for the person to know? I believe that it is, and i think it could save lives if it did.

 

The Touchy Issue of Ethics

Ethical Patents?

“The healing potential of plants used by indigenous people may end up providing profits to drug manufacturers as a direct result of their patent rights, while people in poor nations where the plants are found cannot afford basic medical care. The industry argues that a patent is necessary for them to invest in the development of new drugs, whose production benefits everyone” – Eric Grace, 207

I believe this situation is a very serious one and should be taken that way. In theory, there are two legitimate claims to the argument, but in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is taking advantage of their monopoly of industry in society. Indigenous people do not have an obligation to share their medical traditions with modern industry, but at the same time, pharmaceutical industries do have an obligation to use their resources to benefit all of society. This does not mean that they should exploit the indigenous people’s knowledge by using patents unfairly, but should work as hard as possible to first obtain the knowledge fairly with some kind of compensation, and second make the new medicine available and accessible to the indigenous people. If the companies make drugs that are not accessible to everyone, it can be argued that the drugs do not “benefit everyone”, and the companies are simply making profit for their own benefit.

Ethical Patents?

Prometheus and Biotechnology

“Biotechnology is a Promethean risk, another example of humanity’s self-destructive aspiration to play God” (Grace 215)

Are researchers, innovators, and scientists really trying to tamper with nature when they build better inventions that make life easier? Or are we supposed to flow with nature and expect that it will provide for us? I am never sure of my stance on this issue because on one hand, I want to see many human ailments eradicated to limit suffering, but then I question: Is that what makes life, life?

Prometheus and Biotechnology

Building Better Humans

“Once the techniques of gene modification have been developed, they are open to misuse, tempting those in power to alter genes for reasons other than eliminating disease.” p.213

There are many positives and negatives to gene modification. I believe that the positives do outweigh the negatives. Scientists and doctors would be able to work together to find cures for diseases that are killing many people throughout the world. People would be stronger and lead healthier lives due to this research. Although I believe that there should be some government intervention that would ensure that this research would not be used in the wrong way and help to protect the safety of those that use it.

Building Better Humans

Risk Assessment

“We are generally more willing to live with familiar risks than new ones, no matter what the relative dangers” – Grace, p216

This quote stuck out to me because of its relevance to my feelings about GMOs and the issues concerning patenting genes. As relatively new topics, GMOs and patented genes seem scary to me because they are unknown, but everything that is introduced into our society is at one point unknown. We grow to become more comfortable with certain risks because they are functioning in society and we see people interacting with them more and more each day. I think this quote is very applicable to all new inventions and topics that spark controversy because with time new risks will morph into familiar risks that we are more comfortable with.

Risk Assessment

Gene Patenting Controversy

“Scientists are obtaining genetic samples from isolated populations to preserve a record of human diversity and evolution before these rare groups disappear into history.” (Grace, p200)

Gene patenting is a very controversial topic that has even caused a supreme court case. After reading Chapter 7 of Biotechnology Unzipped, I was curious to do a little more digging in to the whole gene patenting case. I found a short video that is against gene patenting, and a short article that is pro gene patenting. I will attach them below, check them out if you have time it’s interesting stuff.

Pro Gene Patenting:

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-articles/in-defense-of-gene-patenting/2052/

Against Gene Patenting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_v8sfc36OtI

Gene Patenting Controversy

Patented Drugs

The price of patented drugs, however, is often artificially inflated due to the monopoly, putting them out of reach of many people and increasing health insurance costs (Johnson, 207).

Before reading this chapter, I had no idea that this happened and was very surprised to discover that it does. Although these patented drugs have the potential to benefit so many, they are out of reach for most people financially. I understand why people could have ethical issues with this. Maintaining a healthy life should not come at an inflated price. Personally, I find it unfair for the individuals and families who may need these drugs but cannot afford them.

Patented Drugs

Should we eat GMO’s?

In one of its last paragraphs, the article notes that McDonald’s, one of Simplot’s oldest customers, is refusing these new GM potatoes. Since these new potatoes are approved by the FDA and USDA, and more resistant to bruising, it doesn’t make much sense why McDonald’s wouldn’t want to use them.

McDonald’s resistance to GM potatoes raises the question: if a company that is known for unhealthy foods is rejecting these potatoes, should all of us?

The FDA has stated that these new potatoes are “as safe as any other potato on the market”, though people’s general aversion of GMO’s makes them wary to trust the statement. In a survey of UK citizens, “most rejected genetic modification, even though most people who responded agree that they did not know much about it.” (194, Unzipped) The opponents of GMO’s “who knew more about the technology…were convinced that no one knows enough about its long-term effects on human health.” (195, Unzipped)

In addition to McDonald’s rejecting GMO products, about 65% of people surveyed were likely to reject GMO’s based on their views of religion, science, and environmental issues, 25% believing that “biotechnology offers more danger than benefits.” (196, Unzipped)

There is a lot of confusion that floats around GMO’s, but does it all have to do with actual biotechnology? Is it partially our fear of science and natural dislike for change? Should we trust a major food company opinion on GMO’s, even though they were proven extremely unhealthy by the famous documentary Super Size Me? Are there genuine concerns with trusting a plant, something that is supposed to be “natural”, once it has been manipulated in a lab?

 

Should we eat GMO’s?

Beliefs

People in this group are most likely to see the world as a manifestation of “God’s plan” and feel modern technology is responsible for environmental crises.

This quote really interested me, because it is talking about how the views are influenced by religion, science, nature, etc. This quote however, is specifically on how really religious people may blame this on the environmental crises. It brought my attention since I was raised in a religious household never thought like that. Modern technology is to facilitate our lives and there are other factors that contribute in the environmental crises. There are things that affect the environment more negatively than this. It was also brought to my attention because I feel like people should analyze the world with what is best for it without religion, because not everyone has the same beliefs. So, it is better to come to an agreement with something that speaks to every human, regardless of their religious background.

Beliefs

Building Better Humans

While reading Chapter 7 of Biotechnology Unzipped I found it very interesting when the authors touched upon the ideas of “building better humans” referring to the use of gene therapy and genetic modification/alteration to either detect and prevent serious genetic illness or disease as well as genetic modification of genes to get a desired phenotype for one’s offspring. I thought that these ideas were very interesting and relate back to a lot of discussion I had in my Genetics course and the ethics of using gene therapy for these particular reasons. Specifically, I think it is strange how there are sometimes no boundaries on the use of gene therapy. Gene therapy and detection of genes and modification of genes should be used for detection of diseases and prevention of those diseases from being passed to later generations. While this is a benefit of gene therapy, this form of biotechnology can be taken advantage of when individuals desire certain traits in their offspring and thus genetically modify their gametes. These ideas directly relate to  the quote in the passage when it says

“It’s the start of a slippery slope. Once the techniques of gene modification have been developed, they are open to misuse, tempting those in power to alter genes for reasons other than eliminating disease” -Grace, p213.

I think this is a very powerful statement, because while biotechnology can be beneficial and leads to many medical advancements and preventative measures, there is a great deal of misuse in which this form of technology is not being used for the correct reasons it was invented for. Overall, I thought this quote was very powerful and really opens the mind to discussion on whether boundaries should be set in regards to the use of gene modification in humans.

Building Better Humans

Prometheus

“Prometheus was the Greek demigod who stole a spark of fire and was punished by Zeus for his presumption. To many people, the enterprise of biotechnology is a Promethean risk, another example of humanity’s self-destructive aspirations to play God… Powerful though our species has become, it is a mark of hubris to believe that we can play God.” -page 215

I thought it was interesting that the section on ethics ended with a reference to Greek mythology. Myths and storytelling have always been used to teach, warning audiences not to make the same mistakes that the characters in the story did. And by comparing genetic modification to Prometheus stealing fire, an act that was punished with being sentenced to have his liver torn out daily, Grace drives home the point that scientists need to be careful with what they use their discoveries to accomplish.
But I’d like to disagree with Grace. I don’t think it’s a sign of hubris at all, nor do I think scientists intend to play God. Hubris means great arrogance. But accomplishments made through biotechnology are hundreds of years in the making. It’s taken scientists centuries to get to where we are now, a great deal of time and effort, trial and error. And using that knowledge to make better food or cure disease doesn’t seem at all arrogant to me.

I’d also like to point out that Prometheus was not a demigod, but a Titan. According to Greek mythology, he was tasked with helping to create mankind, which is why he stole fire in the first place, as he felt responsible for helping them. A demigod is the offspring of a god and a mortal, and as mortals had not yet come into being, Prometheus couldn’t possibly have been a demigod.

Prometheus

Geographical Differences

“[In America] Some 73 percent favored biotech crops if they would help farmers cut back on pesticide use. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, public attitudes were distinctly anti-biotech, at least where foods are concerned.”

Biotechnology Unzipped pg. 194

In the United Kingdom, and in Europe in general, attitudes towards GMO’s are much more severely negative in comparison to the United States. In the United States is seems as if only a percentage of the population is aware of GMO’s and recognize the possible negative effects. Even when these possibilities are acknowledged, genetically modified products are still sold in supermarkets in the US without much caution. Perhaps Americans are more accustomed to processed foods then Europeans and this is the cause of our high tolerance for high risk foods. Americans eat a very high amount of foods that come from factories, not farms. This routine of eating unnatural foods could be driving Americans tolerance of GMO’s. In time we will see the consequences of genetically modifying our crops in comparison to a part of the world who has rejected these practices.

Geographical Differences

Regulation

After reading this article the biggest part that struck me was the genetically alter mice that Harvard Medical School patented. I never knew someone could genetically engineer mice to contain a certain gene that would be repetitively passed on from generation to generation. One of the questions that arose from this was that people could simply buy a female and male mouse and than reproduce them on their own for future experimental uses. How would this be regulated? It doesn’t seem plausible that a company could regulate this seeing how the patent was in place in many different countries. The countries that would not accept their mice as “novel” and did not give them a patent could do the same experiment and produce their own genetically engineered mice. It doesn’t seem as if Harvard would be able to monopolize this “invention”.

Regulation

Genetic Screening

“In Human Terms, the easy access of genetic screening might place people under pressure to be tested for all sorts of situations, including marriage planning, traveling, starting a new job, or deciding when to retire. If screening comes to be seen as a social good there might be prejudice against those who choose not to be screened.” -Unzipped page 211.

I thought it was interesting that genetic screening could become advanced enough that it can be used to detect stress levels before job interviews or if you’ll have a successful marriage. I am not sure if its going to be a good or bad thing that we might be able to dodge future consequences but it is very interesting to think about.

Genetic Screening

Profiting From The Poor

“The global distribution of modified crop seeds and livestock, for example, reduces the diversity of food grown around the world, increases costs to farmers, and makes everyone dependent on a few large corporations for this most basic of commodities.”

-pg. 206 Biotech Unzipped

The problems with globally distributing modified seeds and livestock are not ones to be ignored, yet I just learned about it from this chapter. It can be argued that reducing the diversity of food around the world is not a good thing, incase of an outbreak with the crop for example. Also imposing a liscencing fee on farmers for using a patented and modified seed is not, in my mind, the right thing to do. There should be more exposure to the problems with global distribution of modified seed and livestock.

Profiting From The Poor

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is also affected by familiarity. We are generally more willing to live with familiar risks than new ones, no matter what the relative dangers. – Grace, p216

I’ve spoken to many people (students included) who refuse to get a flu vaccine because they don’t consider flu to be a “serious” disease despite the fact that the flu can also result in death and as Americans, they have a higher chance of contracting the flu virus than the ebola virus.

flu or ebola

It’s also worth asking what role media plays in skewing the public’s perception of risk.

Risk Assessment