Scientific Anthology: Discoveries Ahead of Their Time

Introduction

Throughout time, monumental discoveries have been made that have greatly benefited society. Although every discovery eventually receives its time in the spotlight, the brilliance of many discoveries by hardworking scientists go overlooked until long after the scientists are gone. We who benefit from these discoveries end up saying that these people were “ahead of their time,” and therefore they were not recognized for their greatness and potential during the time in which they lived.

This anthology includes 20 instances where discoveries from a wide variety of scientific fields were made before the world was ready for them. Also included in these 20 examples are the profiles of scientists who did not receive the recognition they should have at the time, simply because their discovery was not made in a time period that could fully implement and comprehend their discovery’s advanced features and societal importance.

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Scientific Anthology: Discoveries Ahead of Their Time

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

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

The Sociopath Gene

“We are peering over the brink of an abyss. In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic locations of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions.”- Weinberg, page 350 (Epilogue)

In her closing statements, Weinberg talks about inherited genes and infers that Frediani might have inherited sociopathic traits from his ancestors. On first glance, this statement seems kind of preposterous. Our genes determine our physical traits, but our mental ones, our attitudes and opinions, seem to come from other places. I have been raised to believe that our mental state results from our choices, beliefs and experiences. In other words, I would not act the same way I do today if I grew up in Amsterdam or if I was born into Donald Trump’s family. I always thought that someone goes thrill-seeking because they have a boring life, or someone is a sociopath because of traumatic experiences which cut them off from their emotions and morals.

However, this may not be exactly the case. Weinberg brings up Dean Hamer, who claimed to have identified genetic reasons for homosexuality as well as a gene that makes one seek out thrills. Here is an interview between him and Time magazine, for more information. His research suggests that many aspects of our personality come from our genes rather than our minds. This would not be an unprecedented idea; everyone knows someone who “acts just like their mother/father” or has heard of a family where a certain trait like aggressiveness or ignorance “runs in their blood”. In fact, Adolf Hitler’s descendants agreed never to have kids in order to end his bloodline, possibly out of the fear that being a ruthless dictator was an inheritable trait. Obviously it is still preposterous to think that a human mind is only a product of one’s genetics and not a myriad of factors, but Hamer’s information seems to show that we likely inherit many mental traits in addition to physical ones.

The Sociopath Gene

Taq Polymerase

Chapter 10 mentions briefly that a new polymerase was discovered in 1986 by Erlich, one that would revolutionize the already occurring revolution of PCR. Taq polymerase is from the bacteria Thermis aquaticus, and was used by geneticists because of its heat resistance, as it comes from a thermophilic bacterium. I found this to be a fascinating breakthrough because this polymerase immensely increased the efficiency of PCR and would open even more doors for more fields. Even today, another bacterium has been used for its polymerase, Pyrococcus furiosis, because it is even better at copying the DNA in the PCR process than taq polymerase, by resulting in less errors due to its proofreading abilities. Moreover, this finding shows the relationship between all science fields, as genetics required microbiology to reach new heights.

Taq Polymerase

Sickle Cell Disease

Chapter 3 discusses Mendel’s discovery of genes, and how his study is known as “genetics”. Mutations can occur with genes and effects can occur such as Sickle Cell Disease. Sickle Cell can happen when one parent has the sickle cell trait and the other has an abnormal hemoglobin gene.If both parents are carriers there is a 1 and 4 chance that their child will have sickle cell. The disease is prevalent in populations in or from Africa, and the Middle East. These are major areas where malaria is prevalent. When someone has sickle cell their red blood cells become distorted into a sickle shape and provide low oxygen. There are many treatments for sickle cell such as blood transfusions and an array of pain medications. Unfortunately, no cure has been found. As a Ghanaian American with family members and friends who have sickle cell. I would like for many people to be aware of this disease and I hope some day someone is able to find a cure.

sickle_cell_anemia-01

Sickle Cell Disease

Rough Childhood

Frediani life as a kid might have been unstable and rather violent when he was kid. There is a likelihood that this can be tied to the accusations of rape toward him. It is very common that most criminals that commit rape, murder etc are victims of violence at the hands of their parents when they were kids. I think that if the treatment was better in Frediani’s childhood then the crime accusations would not have existed. This also brings me to the idea that there is ultimately no choice the criminal has if he or she was raised in a similar fashion, years after years of child abuse and negative influence must make the criminal a certain amount of insane.

Rough Childhood

Mendel’s Pea Plants

One of the biggest contributions to both DNA and Chapter 3 of Pointing From the Grave is Gregor Mendel’s work with pea plants. Through his studies Mendel was able to learn more about how offspring inherent different genes from their parents, and about the dominance and recessiveness of different genes. The most fascinating part of Mendel’s story in my opinion is that he did not receive any response or any recognition when he presented his discoveries. It took the dawn of a new century for Mendel’s work to be understood for its greatness. This chapter got me thinking a lot about Mendel and I wanted to learn more about his advancement of genetics. Attached below is a Ted Talk that I think you guys may enjoy. After watching this video I understood Mendel’s work in a whole new light, and definitely a more visual light. Check it out!

Mendel’s Pea Plants

Peas

He found, to his excitement, that in almost exactly one-quarter of the cases, the characteristics of the “lost grandparent”-the “recessive”-re-emerged. Thus dwarf pea mixed with a tall one might produce tall offspring in the first generation, but when these self-fertilized, they each gave rise to a dwarf plant from one in every four seeds. (Weinberg 30)

This idea of a one in four dwarf pea immediately reminded me of the punnet square. In this case, the second generation pea plants had the following genetics, BB, Bb,Bb,bb. The first three of these would have been the tall pea plants that the monk, Gregor Mendel, observed. The only plant with the recessive dwarf gene was the last one, bb. That 25% chance of a recessive, bb, gene was what inspired the idea of dominant and recessive genes and how they operate. This discovery sparked much of what we know today about genetics and DNA. Along with Watson and Cricks, Mendel is a father of genetics.

Peas

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

Reluctance of Change

“The academic world apparently did not have enough time to read a paper on peas Written by and unknown monk and published in an obscure journal” (Weinberg, 31).

When something that is introduced that could change the game, why is it that we are reluctant to look at it or even fear what it has to say, Brother Mendel discovered a new theory about genetics,”but there was no reaction. no response, no recognition”(31). He was also ridiculed by a bishop for it secularly, and geneticists in Russia were sent to Gulags for it being a different thought. Going back to Johnson, some things ,such as DvD’s, take a while to be accepted by the general public. It can seem odd, Why would we not immedietly accept a new finding, well we have grown up with a different view on things, and changes can take a while to digest, its just in our genes.

Reluctance of Change

Does Society Stifle Science?

In Chapter 3, Weinberg brings up multiple examples of society rejecting scientific developments. Helena, Gregor Mendel, and Oscar Avery all encountered difficulty telling the world what they had discovered. Mendel was “revered and reviled”, with his discoveries polarizing the scientific community. Avery was misinterpreted, and thought that rather than evidence that DNA contains the material for human life it was merely a step in the process. Did Helena face the same stubborn community that silenced many of the great minds that came before her? In my memory, the world of the late 20th and early 21st century has accepted many scientific discoveries (like Hawking’s black hole theory) almost too easily. For example, recently evidence of gravitational waves was discovered by scientists at the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. Every one I talked to accepted that evidence without question, and either were excited and supportive or indifferent. However, no one opposed that discovery or said “that can’t be!” It seems that, in our modern era, people are more accepting and supportive of scientific ideas. This could be for many reasons; Rapid information transfer in the Internet Era could be to blame, or the presence of science in the media. Maybe this could even be because the world has learned from the mistaken rejections of Mendel’s philosophy in the past, and has grown to be a better place because of it.

Does Society Stifle Science?

Ahead of His Time

In Chapter three of the book, it discusses how Brother Gregor Johann Mendel was the first person to crossbreed species to see how they would turn out.  While breeding different types of peas, he discovered dominate genes and ultimately figured out how they worked, with peas at least.  But, he never got credit for his ideas until after his death.  But, what was the reason for that?  Was the scientific community just not ready for that big a leap into the field of DNA and genes?  Did it seem rather unimportant to scientists at the time?  In 1909, over 20 years after his death, Mendel was finally recognized for his work and his field of study was named genetics.  It’s actually quite sad that Mendel would never know how truly revolutionary his experiments would become in the scientific world today.

Ahead of His Time

Macrocosms

“Exaptation. An organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function” (Johnson 154).

Beyond the world of genetics I believe this word still has application in our daily lives. When exaptation occurs in the natural world, a trait created by genetic change, ends up having a purpose that was not the driving force behind the mutation. Like the feathers on prehistoric dinosaurs that led to flight, we often find second or third uses for goods in our lives. Creativity seems to be a cliche word used to describe someone but the human race in itself is exceptional at exapting uses beyond the intended purpose. I am interested in this reoccurring of biological processes repeating themselves in macrocosms in the world.

Macrocosms

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