Under-the-Radar Human Evolution

Designer babies have been discussed as a possibility for decades.  With the recent advancement to genome editing technology referred to as “CRISPR”, the discussions about the ethics of have been amplified.  This is because CRISPR has reduced hurdles to human genome editing in terms of cost and technical ease.  Three days ago, the following video was posted to YouTube:

Who needs peer-reviewed publications when you have YouTube?

This unorthodox reveal of the existence of genetically modified humans was shocking to the world at large, yet predictions of rogue scientists “skipping over ethical concerns and going for it” have been floating around for years.  More than one TED Talk has addressed the ethical concerns of designer babies.  Here is one for our last Amazon Review assignment of the year.

The ethical dilemma of designer babies | Paul Knoepfler

For more thoughts on this subject, try out any of the following movies:

How CRISPR lets us edit our DNA | Jennifer Doudna

Genetic Engineering Will Change Everything Forever – CRISPR

Great Ape Father Figures

For Evolution

Show notes from this video on YouTube:

“At the Senkwekwe Center for mountain gorilla orphans in Congo, a handful of Virunga National Park rangers live around the clock with four juveniles whose parents were killed. The rangers see their families only every few weeks and are very close to their charges. Chief caretaker André Bauma along with his team have hand-raised the gorillas since they were first brought to the center. The first gorilla, Ndakasi, was found when she was just two months old, near the body of her murdered mother. Bauma cared for her like a human child—letting her sleep on his chest for warmth and bottle-feeding her to help build her strength. After that, three more orphaned gorillas joined “the family” at the center. Since no mountain gorilla orphan has ever been successfully returned to the wild, they will always depend on humans.”

Are these gorilla caretakers interacting appropriately with the gorillas?  Are they teaching the orphans how to be parents similar to wild gorillas?  Keep these questions in mind as you read about this new study that documented gorilla father behavior over a few decades.

Biology from an Engineering Perspective

For Evolution

Chapter 8 of The Tangled Bank discusses evolutionary adaptations that came about due to different types of mutation.  First, if genes are duplicated within a genome, the copies might come under the control of a new promoter.  This could change the rules about when and how much a gene is expressed.  Second, gene recruitment can occur if mutations lead to a different protein function.  The protein could acquire a second function while maintaining the first function or the old function could be lost and a new function takes its place as the purpose of that gene.

Together, these examples drive home the idea that gene expression control (example: promoter properties) and gene coding information (example: protein function) can be thought of as separate “parts”.  Synthetic biology is based on the idea that the parts could be mixed and matched to intentionally lead to a specified function.  Genetic engineers can build ever increasingly complex processes by connecting more parts together.  As an introduction to this, we will watch “Synthetic Biology: Programming Living Bacteria” by Christopher Voigt.