Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Using Genetics For Evil. Decaffeinated Coffee Plants

This one's just for fun... and topical as it's pretty late here in Vancouver.

Decaffeinated coffee plants, pest-resistant cotton, and Vitamin A-producing rice varieties have all been developed by introducing genes into plants. Scientists also create modified plants to identify and characterize the functions of specific genes. The current issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols includes a set of techniques for the creation of transgenic plants.

I hope someone passes a law forbidding the cultivation of these caffeine-less coffee plants outside of the lab because I'm not ready for the panic that would ensue if the crippled coffee ran wild.

Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigentic, Behavioral and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life

I'm curious about Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb's Evolution In Four Dimensions... I think I may have to pick it up to read over the holidays. I first heard about it on (I believe) CBC's The Current while driving into work, and it certainly caught my attention.

From a review referenced on this blog (who told three friends, who told three friends...):

The authors dispute Richard Dawkins' claim that the gene is the only biological hereditary unit, discussing other inheritance systems where his distinction between replicator and vehicle does not seem to hold. Research on bacteria seems to show that some mutation is non-random, i.e. is to some extent directed by environmental or developmental factors. Hence evolution by natural selection may itself produce mutation-generation systems that confer selective advantage.

If anyone's read it I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis - For 'Disabilities?'

The New York Times just ran an article (Wanting Babies Like Themselves, Some Parents Choose Genetic Defects) that completely blows me away. The topic is preimplantation genetic diagnosis, but rather than the usual 'building the perfect baby' angle the article discusses parents with 'disabilities' who want to leverage the technology to introduce the same conditions into their unborn childern.


From the article:
Wanting to have children who follow in one’s footsteps is an understandable desire. But a coming article in the journal Fertility and Sterility offers a fascinating glimpse into how far some parents may go to ensure that their children stay in their world — by intentionally choosing malfunctioning genes that produce disabilities like deafness or dwarfism.

I guess I'd never thought about it applying in that direction. I'd always assumed that a parent with dwafism or deafness wouldn't want their child to experience and grow up with the same condition. I'm curious whether the desire for the child to share the condition is due to an honest belief that their lives were enriched by the condition, or a concern that they wouldn't be able to raise or deal with a child who lacked their 'disability.'

Interesting stuff...