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Genetic Information as Fashionable Fetish

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on January 31st, 2008

Davos, Switzerland

The blog of T Magazine, the New York Times' publication on "fashion, design, food, and travel," reports that, at the World Economic Forum:

this year's must-have Davos accessory is a personal DNA map, which provides the ultimate knowledge of personal style by determining just what traits you may or may not possess - from cancer to attached earlobes to what? A weakness for cashmere?
Yes, genome scans offered by the well-connected 23andMe are now a fashionable fetish among the world's elite. The blogger concludes:
The thought of what's gone on at Davos - mapping the genome of hundreds of the world's most powerful people all in one week - raises a number of questions: Will connected comparisons reveal a greed gene? Is there a causal link between teaching economics and baldness? Never mind the legal, moral, ethical, risk and privacy implications; mixing science with genomics with social networks will likely provide an information cocktail too potent to ignore.
Update: 23andMe apparently distributed one thousand free kits to the world's elite at the Davos gathering - a wise marketing tool, indeed.

The New Republic Asks Whether Baseball is Already Losing the Next Doping Battle

Posted by Osagie Obasogie on January 29th, 2008

Senator George Mitchell's 20 month investigation and subsequent report on the use of steroids, HGH, and other performance enhancers in baseball has rocked the sport to its knees. The proverbial asterisks no longer belongs solely to Barry Bonds, as fan favorites such as Miguel Tejada and Roger Clemens are also on the long list of players who are suspected of cheating their way to the top. But the folks over at The New Republic blog have shifted the focus of baseball's scrutiny from past to future by asking whether the sport is already losing the next big doping battle. In addition to the medical exemption loophole and the growth of HGH use in the absence of any tests to detect it, TNR takes a good look at gene doping, noting

This is the most speculative, but far-reaching, cheating strategy on the horizon: the possibility of using gene therapy to improve athletic performance. It's certainly unrealistic to expect baseball to have any well-defined strategy yet for dealin­g with it, but when Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) asked [Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud] Selig about it, Selig seemed not to understand what Souder was talking about. He asked Souder to repeat the question three times, and then gave a brief, generic answer about baseball having hired the best anti-doping doctors in the country. This doesn't inspire much confidence that baseball will be ahead of the curve.

Synbio researcher: Synthetic human genome could be used in cloning by 2014

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on January 24th, 2008

Dozens of news articles (1, 2, 3, 4) are reporting on today's publication in Science of another step toward the creation of artificial life.

According to Wired News, J. Craig Venter, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute where scientists performed the study, said in a teleconference today, "We consider this the second in our three-step process to create the first synthetic organism…What remains now that we have this complete synthetic chromosome…is to boot this up in a cell."

Also reported by Wired are remarks by synthetic biologist Christopher Voigt, who explains that plans call for researchers to "scale up from the simplest organisms to the most complex: human beings." Voigt estimates "that a synthetic human genome - which could be used in human cloning research - could be created by 2014."

In response, the ETC Group renewed its call for a moratorium on the release and commercialization of synthetic organisms. From its press statement:

Venter is claiming bragging rights to the world's longest length of synthetic DNA, but size isn't everything. The important question is not 'how long?' but 'how wise?'

While synthetic biology is speeding ahead in the lab and in the marketplace, societal debate and regulatory oversight is stalled and there has been no meaningful or inclusive discussion on how to govern synthetic biology in a safe and just way. In the absence of democratic oversight profiteering industrialists are tinkering with the building blocks of life for their own private gain. We regard that as unacceptable.

Financial analysts' advice on California stem cell research

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on January 24th, 2008

Citing the Golden State's $14-billion budget shortfall, an editorial in Investor's Business Daily invites Californians to "revisit their decision to borrow $3 billion for a research effort driven more by politics than science" and to "save themselves a good deal of money by winding the program down."

Yes, the financial pundits are talking about Proposition 71, the 2004 stem cell research initiative. They quote Biopolitical Times blogger and CGS stem cell policy expert Jesse Reynolds, who "says he doubts if Proposition 71 would pass if it were on the ballot today." The editorial continues:

The proposition succeeded, Reynolds says, "because of the political shine of embryonic stem cell research . . . It was like a magic bullet aimed at Washington."

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