Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

Introduction

As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” What they don’t tell you is that it also makes Jack less likely to succeed at work. In the next fifteen examples, you will see the value of play–hobbies–in addition to work, specifically scientific exploration. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson reports how hobbies have benefited the scientific community through many generations.

 

“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies” (Johnson, 172).

The innovative power that comes from balancing work and play–career and hobbies–has always been present in scientific exploration. This anthology will describe how that power is still at work today.

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Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

California: Hotbed of Innovation

Introduction

 

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.

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California: Hotbed of Innovation

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

Sally Smith Hughes writes, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, a historical account about the rise of Genentech Inc. Hughes takes the reader from the beginnings of biotech in 1973, to Genentech’s creation by Robert A. Swanson and Herbert Boyer, to its Wall Street debut in 1980. Hughes is a science historian at the University of California, Berkeley contributing over 150 oral histories[1] to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley; additionally Hughes also wrote The Virus: A History of the Concept[2]. Genentech tells the story of how a multiplicity of perspectives and personalities can affect the growth of science; and how outside sources of control and regulation, by government and private sector, can help or hamper progress in commercial and university scientific research. Continue reading “Genentech: History of Biotechnology”

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

Genentech: A Visionary Company

Sally Smith Hughes lays out the history of one of biotechnologies most important and influential companies, Genentech. From the founders early days through their most important discoveries the self explaining title Genentech, the Beginnings of Biotech, tells of how Genentech was founded in South San Francisco. According to Hughes “Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech is the story of a pioneering genetic-engineering company that inspired a new industrial sector, transforming the biomedical and commercial landscapes ever after”(VIII). By becoming the first in the industry to synthesize insulin and Human Growth Hormone, Genentech placed themselves in history. Hughes writing tells of a new creation,  “the entrepreneurial biologist” and the “intimate and people centered history traces the seminal early years of a company that devised new models for biomedical research”(xi). The importance of Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in the field of biotechnology is repeatedly emphasized in Hughes’s words. This non-fiction history of Genentech is laid out for you by a leading historian of science and the University of California at Berkeley. Often, the existence of insulin for diabetics, or HGH for those who suffer from other disabilities, is taken for granted. Genentech tells the story of the struggle to recreate such complicated bio-medications. Continue reading “Genentech: A Visionary Company”

Genentech: A Visionary Company

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

In the beginning of Genentech, the founders- Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen- are introduced to us. After a brief introduction to their childhoods and what motivated them to pursue biochemistry, genetics, and biotechnology. Hughes shifts her focus to their research years. Academic Institutions, such as UCSF, start by receiving a profit from researchers from small companies that use the universities’ labs and resources through a grant. However, the staff, faculty, and researchers at such institutions are not the most welcoming.

“Unbeknownst to Genentech, the pharmaceutical giant had previously sealed an agreement with the University of California. Lillly and UC concluded a $13 million =, five-year agreement on the complementary DNA cloning and expression of human insulin and human growth hormone. (Hughes 94)

Here is the purpose of Research Universities is explained. This can give us more understanding as to why Genentech was making this big move. To conclude, in the world of patents, the process of becoming official is tough. The focus on the Genentech’s partnered research universities is to discover the Human genome hormone and insulin. Typically, this is why there is an emphasis on the professors and less on the undergraduates.

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

Similarity between Genentech and Google

Chapter 5 describes “an emerging culture” in the Genentech company. Genentech was developing a culture that was unmatched by any other technology company at the time. Hughes wrote that Silicon Valley firms were equally motivated by innovation, research, and protecting intellectual property. However, these companies lacked strong ties with the academic world that biotechnology is built upon. The culture of Genentech’s company combined the financially driven aspect of product development that tech companies thrive on, with the academic collaboration that universities promote.

“Genentech’s culture was in short a hybrid of academic values brought in line with commercial objectives and practices. It was, to turn a phrase, “a recombinant culture” in way that the biotechnology industry of today continues to manifest in one way or another” -Hughes, 132

The culture was not lost on its visitors. As Hughes states, visitors to the company immediately noticed the energy and electricity of the company’s scientists. The company was noticeably informal and was lacking in respect to authority or hierarchy.

“Genentech’s culture of extremes included a strand that observers today would label socially unacceptable. But it was not Genentech’s blemishes that financiers noticed. They saw a company with an impressive line of scientific accomplishments and major corporate alliances.” – Hughes, 135

The environment of Genentech reminded me about Google’s environment from reading Johnson’ Where Good Ideas Come From. Google is notorious for having a laid back, informal work environment, where employees are encouraged to collaborate. Both Genentech and Google provide their employees with work environments that may not fit the norm, but allow their employees to be as innovative as possible. Both companies are able to produce highly marketable, successful products, while still providing their employees with the interactive environment they so desire.

Similarity between Genentech and Google

Investing and Biotech

“‘…I decided I would buy a used VW Rabbit. So, [before the IPO] I sold, i think, eight hundred shares for eight thousand dollars…After we went public, the stock price went up and up and up. At some point, those eight hundred shares were worth a million dollars. And I bought a used Rabbit for that, a million dollar Rabbit. Oh god!'”-Axel Ullrich, page 159

In the tumultuous world of Wall Street, anything could happen. Sometimes, the most unlikely companies rise to the top, multiplying in size and net worth over a very short period of time. In Chapter 6 of Genentech, we see Genentech go through such a transformation. Most of us remember this kind of growth happening in companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google as we were growing up. Wall Street continues to be a risky environment today, where budding companies “make it big or die trying”. However, Genentech’s success in this chapter seems unique, in that there was great interest in it before it had a product on the market. The company had no Macintosh or iPhone to sell, no social network making millions off ad revenue and growing exponentially every month. Genentech had nothing to sell, yet it had millions of investors interested in its future because of the innovative biotech the company was researching and the amazing applications that things like man-made insulin and HGH could have.

I think that Genentech’s success as an IPO is a sort of Cinderella story which shows the advantages of speculation and investment in a time when many of us are highly critical of Wall Street and what it does. While many will write off Wall Street investors as sharks looking for a quick buck to take from someone else, they actually have some amazing effects on our economy. They help keep money flowing into smaller businesses and help them grow into massive companies that hopefully do something good for our society. The amazing stimulative power of Wall Street is a major part of the success of almost every tech company. While the success of these companies (and also Genentech) is never guaranteed, I believe that those who invest in their risky excursions ultimately help the world become a better place.

“Genentech and the origins of biotech were far more than the successful industrial application of a novel technology. A concentration of political, social, and economic factors and strategic, scientific, financial, and business decisions molded, shaped, stymied, and encouraged Genentech’s rise to the temporary pinnacle of its stock market debut.”- Hughes, page 164

Investing and Biotech

Computer Gamers Designing and Folding RNA Molecules

“Modern biotechnology originates in 1973 with the invention of recombinant DNA technology, a now universal form of genetic engineering. It entails recombining (joining) pieces of DNA in a test tube, cloning (creating identical copies of DNA) in a bacterium or other organism, and expressing the DNA code as a protein or RNA molecule.”- Hughes (pg.1)

The discovery and use of recombinant has paved the way into finding new ways to treat patients with protein (nucleotide) based medications such as RNA. This form of treatment does not grow old with time and still is prevalent in our society today. In my health communication class we discussed that there have been many new innovations in the health and pharmaceutical industry. New technologies in wearable technologies, tools for diagnosis, and portable gaming are becoming more apparent.

An online computer game, called EteRNA, has the user puzzled in making single strands of RNA molecule fold and in certain shapes. My first impression of the game was how fun and easily addicting this game can become. However, the importance of this game is critical for the development of new drugs. The RNA in our cells are involved in many important biological functions. Including whether or not certain genes, within our DNA, gets expressed. Scientists want to use  the RNA for customized treatments for viral infections (i.e. the Zika virus) or inherited disorders (i.e. cystic fibrosis) by targeting genes and other parts of our cells. But first, the scientists have to figure out how does RNA fold when it interacts with those structures. So some researchers from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University, who were inspired by the success of Foldit (another mHealth game), developed EterRNA. What the community of gamers noticed from the game were traits that made some RNA structures harder to design. In the “Principles for Predicting RNA Secondary Structure Design Difficulty” published in the Journal of Molecular Biology explained that gamers had difficulty in designing folded RNA molecules that are symmetrical (containing similar RNA bases) were also difficult to synthesize in the laboratory. What these gamers learned can help scientists to save time and money when designing RNA structures in the lab. EteRNA is a gaming technology has led to more positive health outcome in the medical research field that can help benefit society.

Multimedia Outlets:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11rna.html?_r=0

http://www.nature.com/nsmb/journal/v18/n10/full/nsmb.2119.html

 

 

Computer Gamers Designing and Folding RNA Molecules

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Over the course of this semester, we have been discussing patents, the difficulties with patent laws, and ethical controversies over patents. I noticed this recurring theme in Chapter 1, when Reimers suggested the Cohen and Boyer patent their invention of recombinant DNA.

“Patenting in academic biomedicine was controversial on ethical grounds. . .a common belief dating to the early years of the century was that discoveries in biomedicine, especially those related to human health, should be publicly available and not restricted by patents.” ( Hughes, 21).

The Hastings Center, a “nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest” published an article written by Josephine Johnston, titled “Intellectual Property and Biomedicine.”   In this article, Johnston dives into the history and concern around biomedical patents. In this article, she touches on some of the most important ethical questions around biomedical patents:

“Is it acceptable to assert ownership over material derived from the human body? Do all these patents meet the legal criteria for patenting? What are the consequences for research—could patents slow the pace of innovation by restricting access to biological materials and processes? What are the consequences for lifesaving tests and treatments—could patents limit access to them?” (Johnston)

Johnston touches on most of the important areas surrounding biomedical patents. She explains the history, advantages and disadvantage of patenting, and some of the current legal policies surrounding biomedical patents. Its easy to throw a patent on a novel, physical invention and claim ownership. The lines become blurred when the novel item in question is not physically tangible, but still beneficial and profitable. The controversy over whether or not intellectual material can or should be patented is deeper than many may suspect. This short article is a great resource for learning about some of the implications about intellectual patents and how it relates to the biomedical and biotechnology fields specifically.

 

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Happy Accidents and Recombinant DNA

Sally Smith Hughes’ book, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, discusses the importance of biotechnology in the modern world of science. Specifically, she delves into the creation of Genentech as a biotechnology company, but first talks how recombinant DNA played a large role in the biotechnology community. She refers to recombinant DNA as a form of genetic engineering that is widely used. What is the most interesting about this chapter is the experiments conducted by Boyer and Cohen in which recombinant DNA was further investigated. Specifically, research was done on plasmids to understand if these forms of circular DNA would pick up different pieces of DNA and then be expressed in an organism different from the type of organism in which the original DNA came from. The great thing about science, is experiments can go wrong but allow for new discoveries to come about. This is exactly what happened with Boyer and Cohen. Hughes states,

“Boyer and Hellig examined the electrophoresis gels displaying the various DNA fragments. There in plain sight was telltale band composed of two types of plasmid DNA standing out in fluorescent orange . To their inestimable joy, they had not only recombined DNA – they cloned it! The engineered plasmids with their ability to reproduce themselves in the bacterial cells had also faithfully cloned the foreign DNA inserted into them” (p15).

This was interesting because it related directly back to Steven Johnson’s ideas of “happy accidents.” Boyer, Hellig, and Cohen were working to recombine DNA and to their surprise another result occurred. This now opened opportunities to investigate the cloning process and how DNA of many different organisms can be cloned and reproduced. Overall, this first chapter offers insight into the power of biotechnology and understanding how genes work.

Happy Accidents and Recombinant DNA

Progress vs Protection

“But there are plenty of business knocking at the commercial labs’ doors, and there were compelling commercial incentives for each lab to keep its products and processes secret” -(Weinberg 178)

Each year science and scientific research has become more expensive. Now in order to keep a laboratory running one must have enough grant money to keep the investment afloat. DNA research and experimentation is one the businesses in which scientists seek to keep their products and processes a secret due to the competition in the market. If a labs DNA tests or processes came out then eventually that lab would shut down as another company would use that research to profit. Therefore it is a necessity for labs to keep their DNA results secret. However, on the other side it could halt or impede upon scientific progress. If new discoveries in DNA were kept secret due to a lab fearing of other companies using the research then does it stop the flow of ideas in science. It is a very tough question to answer and one option could be the government spending more money on biotechnology research or providing more subsidies for labs.

Progress vs Protection

Skin Cells and DNA

After reading chapter 6 from Pointing from the Grave, I was very alarmed by the events that occurred. It was very surprising to be in the midst of the trial and then to learn of Helena’s death. While this took me by surprise, I did like how the novel progressed in the field of biotechnology and forensics. In this chapter we were introduced to a new form of biotechnology and crime scene analysis through the way in which evidence was collected from the crime scene, how evidence was analyzed, and how that evidence will be used. Specifically, I thought it was interested that now we can understand DNA through skin cells gathered from underneath Helena’s fingernails. Skin cells shed every day and have many traces of DNA with in them. Yet again, we learned of a way in which DNA can be detected. The link below goes into detail about how analysts can extract the DNA from skin cells from a supernatant and a gathered pellet. The DNA can then be analyzed. I think it is very interesting that even the smallest traces of DNA play very large roles in detecting a suspect. It is also interesting to see how technology has advanced so much as seen in the explanations of the link below.

http://www.forensicmag.com/articles/2012/06/touch-dna-analysis-using-literature-help-answer-some-common-questions

Skin Cells and DNA

Outdoor Crime Scenes

“He looked for footprints, and found some small ones to the west of the house, where the dirt had been raked. But there was a covering of leaves over the dirt… He noticed some scrape marks on a section of the bamboo fence…” – Weinberg 72

On the two question forum, a question that came up time and time again was whether the outdoor crime scene had any effect on the case. Because the murder happened outside, was there any evidence that was contaminated or lost due to elements out of the detective’s control, such as the weather? According to all-about-forensic-science, the outdoor crime scene is by far the most vulnerable to the loss of physical evidence in such a short period of time. If the scene isn’t secured almost immediately, evidence can be lost or tampered with. Environmental conditions, such as rain, cold, snow, or in San Diego and in Helena’s case, heat, can tamper physical evidence. Likewise, there is no way to protect the evidence in its natural state: you can either move it, which is problematic, or you can leave it and hope that outside elements do not interfere.

Source

Outdoor Crime Scenes

Insanity Plea

“Mr. Frediani is now seeing a Dr. Thomas Samuels, a clinical psychologist, three times a week… if Mr. Frediani were going to another place… it would have already happened” – Weinberg 60

In Pointing From the Grave, insanity pleas are brought up by Weinberg, which led me to look further into the idea of a mental illness as motive to commit a crime. There are different ways courts test for legal insanity and different results which are used in court. The most common rule used in courts is the “M’Naghten Rule,” which states that the suspect or defendant didn’t understand what he or she did and doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong because of mental illnesses. Another common standard used is courts is the “Irresistible Impulse Test,” when, due to a mental illness, a defendant is unable to control his or her impulses and therefore commits a crime. Though these rules and standards are used in courts all over America, there are a handful of states which do not allow insanity pleas. Idaho, Montana, and Utah do not allow for insanity pleas and Kansas allows for “guilty but insane” pleas where the defendant receives institutionalization rather than jail time.

Source

Insanity Plea

False Admission

In Chapter 4 of Pointing from the Grave, Frediani disputes all claims laid against only to later admit to them, claiming that he was drunk and that’s why. Along these pretences, I began to think about how often suspects lie and if it ever works in reverse; do suspects ever falsely admit to something they never actually did? After doing some research about this, I stumbled upon the Innocence Project’s website where they claim that false admissions are a huge factor in wrongful convictions. They stated that “more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.” Their example was that of Damon Thibodeaux, a young man who eventually admitted to raping his cousin, whose body had been found earlier that night. His story was inconsistent with injuries on the victim and it did not make sense in a timeline but that was not sufficient enough evidence to counter his admission. Damon wrongfully served 15 years in a federal prison before DNA evidence freed him.

Source

False Admission

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

PGM Testing

Chapter 5 of Pointing from the Grave, rerouted back to the trail of Frediani and Helena. Throughout this chapter, results of the semen tests were shared. It was stated that the analyst was able to deduce that Frediani is an O secretor; however, it wasn’t with great confidence that this evidence was accurate. As a result Chaput asks the analyst to

“do any further testing of any other enzymes and she said she would attempt to do that” -Weinberg, p58.

I thought this was very interesting because I thought that when a test was done, all of the enzymes would be extracted. In addition, I was wondering what Chaput meant by enzymes being tested or how a PGM test was done. After doing research on PGM testing (seen in the link below), I found out that they conduct this experiment by testing the enzymes found in the red cell membrane. These are PGM’s or genetic markers are protein enzymes that are found throughout the body. In the discovery these PGM’s, there were also three phenotypes which correlated to two alleles allowing for a more highly specific genetic marker in crime scene investigations. Overall, I thought it was very interesting to see and learn of another form of forensic biotechnology used through the help of DNA. DNA really is the platform for new techniques to arise.

http://www.practicalhomicide.com/Research/LOjun2010.htm

PGM Testing

Ideas Helped by a Collective Process?

One thing that struck me while I was reading this particular chapter was how many scientists and people contributed to uncovering much of the mystery of DNA.  I firmly believe that without any one of these intellectuals, we would not have the knowledge on DNA that we have today.  Although never given the proper credit while he was alive, Gregor Mendel set the stage for future thinkers to pursue a study on DNA.  Without his extensive work with plants, would Johann Friedrich Miescher have been able to discover that chromosomes in each cell nucleus were made up of more than just protein?  Each geneticist building off the work of another through the years ultimately allowed Francis Crick to head the charge in uncovering the main mysteries of DNA.  DNA that could one day help rightfully charge criminals like the one that broke into Helena’s house.  The challenging concept that developed into DNA was a collective creative process, that although took decades to answer, was unearthed by many intelligent minds.  Referring to what we discussed in class, bouncing ideas off of each other can in fact provide a better, and more complete, answer to a question or concept.

Ideas Helped by a Collective Process?

Money

“Biotechnology firms raced to turn the results of pure research into applicable technology. By luring some of the best scientific brains with salaries that academia couldn’t hope to match, they too started to push back the frontiers of knowledge, driving the world of the universities, much as they had originally had been driven” (Johnson 40)

Is money the main motive for driving the frontiers of the scientific world? When thinking about the question, I decided to research how money and the desire to profit affects the healthcare world. According to Forbes magazine, healthcare costs in the United States might be so high because there is a huge desire for profit. Russell Andrews, a neurosurgeon interviewed by the magazine claims that “we have transformed healthcare in the U.S. into an industry whose goal is to be profitable.” Another situation described by Forbes magazine is the story of Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur who raised the price of a life-saving HIV drug by 5000% overnight. Though Shkreli claims that the profits his company will make off of this drug (due to its high price) will fuel even more HIV research, he has made it so thousands of people who need the drug are not able to afford it.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterubel/2014/02/12/is-the-profit-motive-ruining-american-healthcare/#4b151e79a0ce

Source

Money

Results of Competition

In Where Good Ideas Come From we learned of the power of competition, especially when patenting was involved. To counter that idea, Johnson also discussed the necessity of team work and the fourth quadrant. In Pointing from the Grave, Helena discusses how competition got the better of her company.

“Syva had poured more money than it could afford into a new, automated drug-testing machine. If it worked, it would have dominated the field. But there were technical hitches and Abbott, Syva’s main competitor, got their product out first. It was a disaster for Syva- they were forced to lay off hundreds of staff and cancel future projects” (Weinberg 17)

It is interesting to see the theories come to life. It can only be a matter of days for a competitor to beat out its competition. I can see why patents can be essential because they can protect inventions and the employees who worked on a project.

Results of Competition

DNA

I started this journey with only the vaguest idea of what DNA is and does, and it is in large part thanks to Matt Ridley’s erudite and informative Genome that I made it out of the starting gates – page, vii

This quote really caught my attention because what DNA has enabled us to do is massive. We have solved many mysteries by understanding the DNA. Not only crimes, but it helped us solve health mysteries. It has given us an idea of what each face could look like and not only that, but how we could be like personality wise. Of course, one of the greatest things it has done is being able to solve mysteries. If it were not for that a lot of criminals would still be out in the loose and be a danger to society.

DNA

Law in Science or Science in Law

When Helena mentions she wants to be the bridge or connection between those that work in suits, which is referencing those working in the law field with people that work in her science based field. I wondered if she meant she would want to use her knowledge in science to improve the way law works, or did she mean she wants to use the ideas used in the field of law to improve her knowledge in her job field. From this speculation I realize that many different ideas can contribute to both fields i.e DNA. Since this discovery, the world of forensics was discovered, I wonder if any more connections between the two can help revolutionize ideas used in either field.

Law in Science or Science in Law

Reconciling Business and Science

“It was Kohne who had developed a revolutionary new method for diagnosing infectious diseases, using DNA probes instead of traditional cultures. Helena liked them, and needed little persuading to accept their offer. She was excited about the technology– she had been following the developments in DNA as they rolled through the scientific literature like a snowball on virgin snow, and she knew that it  was the way the biotech industry was heading, with Gen-Probe leading the rush.” -Weinberg 21

Helena Greenwood lands this job heading up the marketing department of Gen-Probe because the co-founder of this biotech company had seen her at international markets “present papers to scientists and salesmen alike and was impressed” (Weinberg 21). In short, Helena got the job because she was so efficient at being a scientist and salesperson. In her description of Helena, Weinberg presents her as passionately interested in science, but also as wanting to improve the field of biotechnology itself, by reconciling the business and science aspects of it, and improving the efficiency of the relationship. This is what inspires her to get into the marketing side of biotechnology to begin with.

Helena’s ability and passion to bring the two aspects of the field together are very interesting to me. It reminds me of Steven Johnson’s observation that most “geniuses” were masters of many trades and had many interests and hobbies: guys like Einstein and Ben Franklin were not only scientists and statesmen but also musicians and hobbyists.

But this leads me to ask of Helena’s great success in life: was it due to her multiple interests? If Helena had never gotten into the business side of biotechnology, would she have continued to climb the ladder? Could she have continued to advance just staying in the research side of things? I think she could have continued researching and with unlimited possibilities simply due to her intellectual capacity. But I think the true genius and the fulfillment of her potential came from her passion to combine the two aspects. I think this is an interesting question to consider regardless, because there are so many “what ifs” that can be asked of great innovators and minds of the past few centuries. Were their ideas worth a lot because they could be exapted, or did the innovator exapt themselves and their skill set and passions to an ever changing world?

Reconciling Business and Science

Women in Biotech Field

While reading Pointing from a Grave, I noticed how high up Helena was climbing in the biotechnology field.  Women have mad great strides in the workforce in the last 60 or so years and Helena serves as a prime example of that if you are a passionate hard worker, your gender should not matter.  Earlier in the book, it was mentioned that Helena’s male colleagues were almost waiting for her to slip up so they could have a position like hers, and in 1984 I’m sure there was more gender discrimination in the workforce than there is today.  As I was curious, I did some research about how women fit into the biotech field today, and I found this article.     

Generation Stem talks about how women are more than capable and more than interested in pursuing jobs dealing with science, technology, engineering, and math, but are outnumbered to men 3:1 in science and tech jobs.  Underneath the article there are some blog posts, but why do you think women are not pursing these jobs as much as men? Is it that men care more about careers with a high paycheck? Or is it something else?

Women in Biotech Field

Importance of DNA Evidence

She keeps looking, but she cannot even recognize the eyes, not in the whole face.  But maybe she has seen him before?  Or is this just a trick of the brain, dating an instant memory like a tea-stained piece of parchment?- Weinberg (5).

The scene when Helena is asked if she has ever seen Frediani before in court was a powerful moment thus far in this book.  The attacker mentioned in these cases has always had part of his face covered, and although the women were able to identify Frediani as having a similar build and eyes, it is spotty to pencil in Frediani as guilty based off eye-witness reports.  I feel like this particular quote could provide an argument for how someone who has been through such a horrible experience could have an almost mental breakdown when trying to pick an assailant in court, or in a lineup.  Im not trying to say that the testimonies of these women are flat-out wrong, as they know what they have seen, but why leave anything to an eyewitness or even a trick of the brain.  DNA testing from the semen and sweat of the attacker would properly showcase the truth of who broke into Helena’s house that night.

Importance of DNA Evidence

Lack of Evidence

“It wasn’t enough. With no physical evidence, Joe Farmer knew he was going to have problems persuading the DA’s office to prosecute Frediani for anything other than the indecent exposure.” (Weinberg 26).

How many cases get thrown out due to a lack of physical evidence? According to the Yorkshire Post, a newspaper based out of England, almost 2/3 of police rape investigations in Yorkshire in 2014 ended with no one being charged because of this lack of evidence. Often times, eyewitness testimonies in such traumatizing cases, like sexual assault cases, are unreliable and inconsistent due to high anxiety, stress, and paranoia. The best bet for a conviction relies on physical evidence, such as semen and pubic hair DNA sampling, but these are hard to find matches for. The victim must still have this DNA on his or her body, meaning that unlike Helena they mustn’t wash off after the assault. Does the failure rate of sexual assault cases influence victims and future victims? Are victims less likely to make a case out of their assault if they were to know this statistic?

Source

Lack of Evidence

Restriction of Innovation

“Ideas, Jefferson argues, have an almost gravitational attraction toward the fourth quadrant. The natural state of ideas is flow and spill over and connection. It is society that keeps them in chains.” Johnson 241

Ideas in the fourth quadrants are “networked,” meaning that they evolved through collective, distributed processes, and involve a large amount of people. Johnson states that it is society that is holding the flow of non-marketed ideas in the fourth quadrant back, specifically in the form of patents. Are there inventions that could be improved upon or are there instances of exaptation that are being restricted because of patents? After reading this and forming these questions in my mind, I did some more research and found that several collegiate professors at MIT had actually published a study about this. They found that once someone patents his or her research, others tend to drop their research in the same area, thus stopping innovation.

Restriction of Innovation

Distant/Close Reading

“Distant reading takes the satellite view of the literary landscape, looking for larger patterns in the history of the stories we tell each other,” -Johnson (224).

Just a couple weeks ago in my English class I was taught about the concept of close reading and how it allows us to, word by word, draw deeper meanings from a text.  Johnson talks about how Franco Moretti used “distant reading” to track the genres of a bunch of books over the course of a century and a half.  He argues how distant reading allows us to look at the bigger picture and, more specifically, what that means in terms to the innovation of literary genres.  I would argue, however, that close reading can be just as important as distant reading when one is trying to see a bigger picture in a way like this.  I believe these two types of reading should go hand in hand when trying to discern the overall genre or theme from a literary work.  Sure distant reading can allow one to see the bigger picture, but does it allow one to see all of it?  Close reading very carefully can reveal little things about characters in a text that can greatly shape different themes throughout the text.  Recognizing seemingly hidden themes in a work can allow one to better piece together the overall genre and themes.

Distant/Close Reading

Phytoplankton: A Crucial Organism

Platform building is, by definition, a kind of exercise in emergent behavior”-Johnson (pp.182)

 

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This is a scanning electron picture of a phytoplankton. These microorgansims account for half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth. Just as the beavers described by Johnson, these organisms provide the base foundation for many other aquatic species to exist. The Nation Centers for Coastal Ocean Science explains that, “In a balanced ecosystem, phytoplankton provide food for a wide range of sea creature including whales, shrimp, snails, and jellyfish”.  Without these crucial microorganisms providing nutrition and oxygen our aquatic ecosystem would not look as it is today.

Phytoplankton: A Crucial Organism

Twitter the Exaptation

“When it first emerged, Twitter was widely derided as a frivolous distraction that was mostly goof for telling your friends what you had for breakfast.”-Johnson (192)

When Twitter was dreamed up in 2006, the founders were not expecting the many uses for Twitter that it is used for now.  I find it interesting to see how the web platform evolved from just a place to write simple thoughts to one that fosters news such as political protests, provides customer support for large corporations, and acts as a place to bypass government censorship.  I would argue that, like the wings of birds from chapter 6, Twitter is an exaptation.  Wings are recognized as originally existing for the purpose of being a dinosaur wrist bone, which would provide flexibility.  Wings however, turned out to be used in other ways such as flying.  Twitter has many better uses than just letting your friends know your every thought.

Twitter the Exaptation

Apple’s Coffeehouse

“Apple’s development cycle looks more like a coffeehouse than an assembly line.”-Johnson (170)

As a marketing major I am not only interested in the way a good company builds consumer relationships with consumers, but also what makes their creative process so great.  I found Apple’s coffeehouse technique fascinating, as well as, useful.  I feel that one of the reasons why Apple is at the top of the game when it comes to computers and phones is because of this creative process.  Instead of using a more traditional approach and losing the creative vision along the line of what can and can’t be done, Apple makes sure each line of production has a say.  Apple takes group brainstorming to a whole new level as sales people and engineers of a product will sit down and talk about the one central creative vision.  This  makes me wonder what other companies use this type of coffeehouse approach.

 

Apple’s Coffeehouse

Delaware

“If you sail due east sixteen nautical miles from Delaware’s Indian River Inlet… you will find roughly seven hundred subway cars, deposited there by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control over the past decade. The trains have been planted off the Delaware shore to create an artificial coral reef… the Delaware reefs have seen a 400 percent increase in biomass since the first cars were sunk.” Johnson 198

I lived in Delaware for over 10 years and had never heard of this project before. When I first read this passage by Johnson, I was very surprised. To me, it seemed almost counterproductive to dump a subway car, something that I assumed would be more biohazardous than helpful, into the ocean. Wouldn’t there be repercussions, such as poison from the car paint, for placing an artificial and unnatural thing in such a habitat? However, after reading the statistics, that there was a 400 percent increase in biomass, I was much more content with the idea, though without further research I do still have my concerns regarding the project happening in my own backyard.

Delaware

Liquid Networks

Cities, then, are environments that are ripe for exaptation, because they cultivate specialized skills and interests, and they create a liquid network where information can leak out of those subcultures, and influence their neighbors in surprising ways.  -Johnson 162

Are suburbs or more rural communities also suited for exaptation? I grew up in both Georgia and Delaware, two very rural and idle communities. I believe that we have liquid networks there as well, in the form of more personal relationships than people would have in a huge city. Though I have never lived in a bustling, such as NYC, I couldn’t imagine that its chaotic environment and its seemingly infinite number of residents could produce more exaptations than in a more personal and settled community.

Liquid Networks

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

Errors

“The error is needed to set off the truth, much as a dark background is required for exhibiting the brightness of a picture.”-William James

I found this quote by William James very convincing, if one has the drive to never quit.  Growing up, I was raised to never give up at things I truly wanted and it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the many inventions discovered through trial and error.  As Johnson talks about, errors open new doors to the adjacent possible and I too feel they are necessary to find truths.

Errors

Water Flea Daphnia

I found the description of this crustacean very interesting.  I did not previously know that an organism can choose between producing asexually and sexually.  The way this creature produces effectively asexually during the warmer months was fascinating and so is how it chooses to reproduce sexually during the winter months.  Learning about this organism also made me ponder about why don’t all organisms have a choice to reproduce asexually or sexually?  What are the benefits of only reproducing one way when both can seem useful.

Water Flea Daphnia

Google

Google famously instutiuted a ’20 percent time’ program for all Google engineers: for every four hours they spend working on official company projects, the engineers are required to spend one hour on their own pet project, guided entirely by their own passions and instincts.

Google’s attempt to keep it’s engineers’ minds keen is very innovative. Typically, big companies attempt to keep their engineer or their workers’ minds completely on the company projects because this seems to be the most productive and efficient use of time. However, I admire Google for trying to inspire and push their workers to explore their hunches and to expand their own knowledge.

Google

9/11 Hunches

Being from the New York/New Jersey area, 9/11 can be a touchy subject.  A fellow student that went to my high school lost his father from the attack, as well as many other people in my area that lost a loved ones.  These hunches that were brought up in chapter 3 definitely make me question whether or not things could have went differently, but at the same time I realize the time needed for a slow hunch to turn into something better.  Darwin’s hunches took a while to turn into concrete theories and ideas.  Its hard to not question if, with the proper time, Ken Williams hunches could of had put security on more of an alert all the way back in 2001.

9/11 Hunches

Another Carbon?

“Without the generative links of carbon, the earth would have likely remained a lifeless soup of elements, a planet of dead chemistry,” (page 49).  I thought it was interesting to ponder if if this was the actual case, or if earth could have still have began sustaining from another element.  Could this have been possible? Or would earth still be a lifeless soup of elements without carbon.

Another Carbon?

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

The Multiple

A brilliant idea occurs to a scientist or an inventor somewhere in the world, and he goes public with his remarkable finding, only to discover that three multiple minds had independently come up with the same idea in the past four years. – Johnson pg. 34

Often times, if an idea is so great that it is often thought of multiple times over by different people, then why does it take so long for them to go mainstream? According to the 10/10 rule, it takes 10 years for an inventor to perfect their idea and 10 years for the idea to be accepted into the population. I believe that if an idea, such as the electrical battery (mention in Johnson, 34), is invented time and time again, then there is a need for it. If there’s such a need for a product, typically it should spark a fad for it and it shouldn’t take 10 years to be recognized.

The Multiple

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

Coral Reefs

“‘The list of land animals,’ [Charles Darwin] writes, ‘is even poorer than that of the plants.’… Yet just a few feet away from this desolate habitat, in the coral reef waters, an epic diversity, rivaled only by that of the rain forest, thrives.” pg. 4

Here, in the introduction of Where Good Ideas Come From, Charles Darwin notes that in a place where there is little domestic animals or plant life, there thrives a coral reef habitat. This idea is then explained to be called Darwin’s Paradox: coral reefs make up .001% of the earth and yet they contain almost 25 of marine species. Though I already knew that coral reefs were thriving, I was very intrigued and surprised to discover the statistics surrounding them. It led me to wonder, what is it about the coral reefs that make them able to sustain such a variety of life?

Coral Reefs

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