The ScienceBlogs Book Club

Archives for June, 2008

That’s a Wrap!

Hard to believe it’s already been two weeks, but the Microcosm edition of the ScienceBlogs Book Club has come to an end. Please stay tuned in this spot for news about future installments of the Club. If you have any comments or suggestions about what you’d like to see in the future, or how we…

Dear Prudence

I think Carl gets right to the heart of the issue both in this online conversation and in his book. “Are we really just getting started thinking about this stuff?” he asks. In some cases, it seems that regulators are forcing researchers to go to near-impossible lengths to ensure safety despite no conceivable risk. (Hillman’s…

It is a little weird to think of engineered bacteria living in your mouth or your gut, fighting cavities or Crohn’s disease. I’ll admit I feel a twinge just thinking about it. But is that because I have some intuition of the risks of ingesting such creatures? I doubt it. I think it’s just focusing…

Horizontal Gene Transfer

Back in the 1970s, a scientist named Ananda Chakrabarty received the first patent for a genetically modified lifeform, an oil eating “Superbug” from the bacterial strain Pseudomonas putida. The feat was doubly hailed as a major step in bioremediation and a travesty of nature. In the long run, Chakrabarty’s Superbug was a failure. It was…

Where’s the Line?

Yikes. Carl, how am I ever going to get that “parahuman” image out of my head! I get your point. This image evokes the abhorrent reaction that early critics had against the idea of tinkering with any life, even “mere” E. coli. Most people start to squirm when the transgenics concerns animals, especially when it…

Imagine that mad scientists defied nature and violated the barriers between species. They injected human DNA into non-human creatures, altering their genomes into chimeras–unnatural fusions of man and beast. The goal of the scientists was to enslave these creatures, to exploit their cellular machinery for human gain. The creatures began to produce human proteins, so…

Chemistry vs. Biology

Carl, of course, is right in that it wasn’t long ago that biologists scoffed at the idea of bacteria being more than bags of chemistry. Carl’s thoughtful reply to my question included what, for me, is the best distillation of what virus’s “are.” He writes, “So viruses may or may not be alive, but they…

Jessica asked if I think viruses are alive. John has given his opinion. I will waffle, but I hope in an interesting way. The hard thing about answering that question is that we’d have to agree on what it means to be alive. We all have a sense that we know what’s alive and what’s…

What is Life?

It has been suggested that the first posts of this book club be devoted to the Universal Rules of Life. So… What is life? Jessica asks, Carl, twice in the book you refer to viruses as “creatures.” Perhaps you used the word metaphorically. In any case I’d love to know whether you think viruses qualify…

A model organism…for life

Everything you need to know about biology is in E. coli. Sure, there are some apparent differences between us and a bacterium, but it’s all details … lots and lots of details. That sweet humming core of life — metabolism, replication, communication, evolution — it’s all whirling away in the tiniest of us all, and…