Project Oculus: Paranormal Windows

Earlier this week on The Experience, Jeff Ritzmann announced a new experiment that we can all partake in to see if we can’t catalog paranormal activity as it happens in his and other experiencers’ homes. He calls it Project Oculus. You can learn more in the video below and by listening to The Experience. (I have given away this week’s show with Jeff and last week’s solo show in their entirety for free to nonsubscribers. You can stream or download them at the link above.) Those are the most entertaining ways to understand the project, but the most direct and most important is to go to Jeff’s GoFundMe page, look it over, and if it sounds like the much-needed shot in the arm of research I believe it is, fund it.

https://www.gofundme.com/24hyx54c

I know that in recent years (and months and days) a number of phonies in ufology have made a mockery out of GoFundMe campaigns–begging for money as if it’s an earned wage. They give you nothing in return. They just… you know… want your money. That is not what this is. This is a real experiment he is really going to do that will yield real results, whatever those may be. Not the promise of something, the delivery of something. And that something may end up being crickets–but they’ll be honest crickets–and even paranormal radio silence yields us a clue.

So let us put on our paranormal detective hats and go all in. Let’s go fund Project Oculus.

We Will Replicate You Wholesale

We Will Replicate You Wholesale: 
Envisioning the Human Genome Project, Part 2

By Guest Blogger,

Tyler Kokjohn, Ph.D.

Frankenstein at work in his laboratory

Leading scientists, biotechnology entrepreneurs and influencers met last week to discuss a possible second phase of the Human Genome Project (1).  The first phase involved the physical mapping and determination of the DNA nucleotide base sequence of the entire human genome.  The possible second phase would involve improving the capacity to synthesize DNA.

The New York Times reported the meeting was private and attendees were requested to refrain from contacting the news media or posting on Twitter during the event.  These restrictions produced sharp criticism from scientists objecting to holding discussions with such enormous ramifications behind closed doors (2).  However, Dr. George Church suggested that the critics were inaccurately representing the aims of the conference and organizers, including Dr. Church, consider the ethical issues already addressed sufficiently.  In addition, Dr. Church explained the meeting was closed to news media and attendee communications were restricted because the organizers had submitted a paper to a scientific journal.  Many journals bar the public release of information until it has been published.

Notwithstanding the feelings among the conference organizers the ethical issues were covered, a discrete, invitation-only get-together may have reflected the fact that original title and goals for the conference were extremely provocative; the Human Genome Project 2 (HGP2) would seek to synthesize a complete human genome in a cell line.  Both the conference title and the goals were re-worked into something less audacious before the actual meeting was held.  Misunderstanding or not, the battle is joined.

Part of the intent of the conference was to outline strategies to improve DNA synthesis technology.  Creating entire synthetic genomes will require the production of large, high quality (i.e. correct sequence) DNA molecules at affordable costs.  For the moment, dreams of synthetic genomes are limited by DNA fabrication capacities.  However, the original Human Genome Project faced daunting technical obstacles which were overcome or circumvented.

If creating artificial human genomes is on the back burner, what will they do?  Maybe the work of Dr. J. Craig Venter offers a model (3).  Dr. Venter and associates created a synthetic bacterium with the possibly minimal size genome necessary to allow independent growth in culture.  Seeking to reduce life to its functional limits, Dr. Venter’s group may be on a fast track to the full synthesis of a working genome from scratch that could provide an ideal platform for genetic engineering purpose-built artificial microbes (4).  Perhaps the blueprints for human organs will be cobbled together and placed in animals modified to eliminate endogenous viruses (5).  That might create an ideal source of organs that could be safely transplanted into humans.

Should limits once again quickly become milestones, HGP2 may take us to the point where chemically synthesizing a human genome from scratch is feasible.  If Dr. Venter and the original Human Genome Project taught us anything it is that technology can advance with astonishing speed (6).  Dr. Church noted in his book with Ed Regis that objections to new technologies peak as it is poised to spread, but doesn’t yet work well. Once the technical bugs are worked out, the moral high ground can invert (7).  If and when science enables human entities to be replicated wholesale the groundswell he anticipates may turn out to be an earthquake.

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(1)    A. Pollack.  2016.  Scientists Talk Privately About Creating a Synthetic Human Genome.  The New York Times, 13 May 2016.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/14/science/synthetic-human-genome.html?src=me

(2)   D. Endy and L. Zoloth.  2016.  Should We Synthesize a Human Genome?  Cosmos, 12 May 2016.  https://cosmosmagazine.com/society/should-we-synthesise-human-genome

(3)   E. Callaway.  2016.  Minimal Cell Raises Stakes in Race to Harness Synthetic Life. Nature, 24 March 2016. http://www.nature.com/news/minimal-cell-raises-stakes-in-race-to-harness-synthetic-life-1.19633

(4)   M. Eisenstein.  2016.  Living Factories of the Future.  Nature, 16 March 2016.   http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v531/n7594/full/531401a.html

(5)   S. Reardon.  2015.  Gene Editing Record Smashed in Pigs.  Nature, 6 October 2015.  http://www.nature.com/news/gene-editing-record-smashed-in-pigs-1.18525

(6)   R. Preston.  The Genome Warrior.  The New Yorker, 12 June 2000. http://www.mindfully.org/GE/Venter-Genome-Warrior12jun00.htm

(7)   G. Church and E. Regis.  2012.  Regenesis – How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.  Basic Books, New York, NY.  (p. 85)

 

Also of interest on JayVay and The Center for Bad Ideas

            https://centerforbadideas.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/making-franken-sense/

https://jayvay.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/rewriting-all-the-rules-the-arrival-of-       genomic-editing/

 

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Gene Drives – Will Conqueror Biomolecular Bots Dictate a New Book of Life?

Gene Drives – Will Conqueror Biomolecular Bots Dictate a New Book of Life?
By Guest Blogger,
Tyler Kokjohn, Ph.D.

 A new DNA engineering technique known by the strange name CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to edit the genomes of living cells with unprecedented ease and precision (1).  The method has only been in wide use for a few years, so it is hard to envision all the breakthroughs it will foster.  However, it is already clear the implications will extend far beyond the laboratory and clinic.

Conqueror WormThe CRISPR-Cas9 DNA editing system is versatile, but scientists have extended its capabilities by creating powerful new forms of this technology which function as gene drives (2).  A gene drive disperses genetic alterations or DNA cargo rapidly through a population by overruling the normal patterns of inheritance.  A recipient of a gene drive receives the complete genetic information needed to synthesize the enzymes and guide molecules required to edit pre-programmed DNA targets.  This new genetic information is incorporated directly into the recipient genome and will be transmitted to all progeny during sexual reproduction.  Because they will work automatically and are self-spreading after their release, gene drives may make it possible to edit the genetics of entire populations of wild animals to suit human specifications (3).

Gene drives may provide an effective means to control invasive species as well as a wide range of zoonotic diseases like malaria, dengue, Zika fever and Lyme disease (4).  Despite the urgency, gene drives are wholly unproven control methods that must be tested to confirm their efficacy and safety.  The problem with natural ecosystems is their innate complexity; everything literally is connected to everything else.  That complexity can make it impossible to foresee adverse events and some issues only become apparent after the passage of considerable time.  Even simple changes may create a chain reaction of ramifications.  For example, the wide use of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in veterinary medicine was probably deemed to have few significant environmental impacts.  However, while safe for many animals, vultures feeding on carcasses of diclofenac-treated animals developed lethal kidney failure due to deposition of uric acid (5).  When vulture populations in India collapsed, feral dog populations expanded as this food source became available.  An increased number of wild dogs seems to have been an important factor in a sudden surge of human rabies (5).  That using diclofenac in veterinary medicine would result in a chain of events culminating in more human deaths from rabies would have been hard to predict before the fact.

Scientists involved with gene drive technology have undertaken proactive efforts to fully inform their colleagues and the general public about issues involved in its use (2).  One general problem with released gene drives is that their impacts, good or bad, could become permanent.  In fact, some propose creating ‘crash drives’ intentionally designed to change the species composition of ecosystems (6).  Crash drives that interfere with reproduction might provide a precise means to eliminate undesired organisms like mosquitoes.  Using and evaluating such potentially powerful technology will demand extraordinary care (2) because release of a crash drive might ultimately result in the deliberate extinction of an entire species.  Assessing the benefits and risks of gene drives will be challenging because natural environments are complex, dynamic and sometimes just plain surprising.

Gene drives are immensely promising, potentially far-reaching tools.  Their intended impacts on targeted species could range from tiny genetic tweaks to total annihilation.  Predicting the full environmental consequences of their use is essentially impossible.  Recently, concerns over whether fully autonomous weapons are a permissible military technology prompted serious discussion (7).  The future use of gene drives warrants similar deliberation.  Sovereign, self-spreading and as immortal as the species they will conquer, these invisible biomolecular bots could turn out to be more fearsome than killer robots.  Unless we are careful or perhaps just plain lucky, freed or escaped gene drives could become DNA dictators empowered to rewrite the book of life.

 

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(1)    H. Ledford.  2016.  CRISPR:  Gene Editing is Just the Beginning.  Nature, 7 March 2016. http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-gene-editing-is-just-the-beginning-1.19510

(2)   K. M. Esvelt et al. 2014.  Emerging Technology: Concerning RNA-guided gene drives for the alteration of wild populations. eLife 2014;3:e03401 https://elifesciences.org/content/3/e03401

(3)   J. Lunshof.  2015.  Regulate gene editing in wild animals. Nature 521:127 (14 May 2015) http://www.nature.com/news/regulate-gene-editing-in-wild-animals-1.17523

(4)   R. Stein.  NPR Morning Edition, 5 November 2015.  http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/11/05/451216596/powerful-gene-drive-can-quickly-change-an-entire-species

 (5)   C. Biondolillo. 2014.  Scientists Call on Spain to Ban Vulture-killing Drug.  Science, 28 March 2014.  http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/03/scientists-call-spain-ban-vulture-killing-drug

 (6)   N. Wade.  2015.  Gene Drives Offer New Hope Against Diseases and Crop Pests. New York Times, 21 December 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/22/science/gene-drives-offer-new-hope-against-diseases-and-crop-pests.html?_r=0

 (7)   Author Anonymous.  Killer Robots:  The Case for Human Control.  Human Rights Watch, 11 April 2016.  https://www.hrw.org/print/288611

 

Also of interest on JayVay  

https://jayvay.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/trust-them/           https://jayvay.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/titanic-opportunities/          https://jayvay.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/rewriting-all-the-rules-the-arrival-of-genomic-editing/

 

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