Hot Topics: Genetics

Blog Posts (67)

April 30, 2016

Slouching Towards Gattaca

Genetics is the determinism of our age (“Your destiny is determined by your genes”). It appears more scientific than the determinisms of previous ages such as astrology (“Your destiny is in the stars”) or Marxism (“Your destiny is in economics”), and thus has much greater appeal to the people who look to science for The Answers. News headlines breathlessly report the discovery of the “gene... // Read More »
April 29, 2016

A Bit More about the Minimal Genome

Earlier this week, Mark McQuain posted a nice summary of the recently-published work by J. Craig Venter’s group to identify a “minimal genome” for a type of bacterium, the mycoplasmas, which are, as the group points out, “the simplest cells capable of autonomous growth.”  Mark wondered aloud what the implications would be for our understanding of what it is to be human—how many genes do... // Read More »
April 26, 2016

Genetic Prime Patterns

Last month, Science published the results of an ongoing experiment conceived to determine, among other things, the minimum number of genes necessary for viability in a mycoplasma bacterium. Calling their engineered result Syn 3.0, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) rearranged and reduced the number of genes on the single chromosome of a M. mycoides bacterium and inserted it into a different mycoplasma... // Read More »
April 21, 2016

Public Attitudes about Gene Editing

A recent Perspective article in the New England Journal of Medicine summarizes the results of several public surveys about the acceptability of gene editing.  This summary, which is freely available to the general public online without a subscription, is worth a read.  I think it’s limited by the fact that most of the surveys listed are old.  Only two were done since 2014, and the... // Read More »
April 13, 2016

Experimentation on nonviable human embryos

Nature News recently reported that a second Chinese research team has done research on non-viable triploid human embryos in which they used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to introduce a mutation that cripples the immune cell gene CCR5 and would make individuals with the mutation resistant to HIV. This research raises a multitude of ethical concerns. Should we be pursuing such research when we have not decided... // Read More »
March 22, 2016

Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques – is this Human Enhancement?

Ever since I read John Holmlund’s blog entry (HERE) on mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRT) for inherited mitochondrial diseases, I have been thinking a lot about the issue of enhancement. Almost in passing, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) stipulated that MRT would not be a meaningful example of human enhancement because of the relatively limited genetic information in mitochondria. Recall that mitochondria are the energy power... // Read More »
March 3, 2016

Upcoming Public Meeting and Webcast about Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques

Last week, I wrote about the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recent report “Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques: Ethical, Social, and Policy Considerations.”  A public discussion of this report, with an accompanying webcast, has been scheduled for March 21, 2016, beginning at 1:30 pm Eastern time, in Washington, D.C. Here is a link to the webpage for the meeting.  That page includes a separate link to register to... // Read More »
February 25, 2016

“3-Parent Babies”—Half-Speed Ahead?

Three weeks ago, the Institute of Medicine released its FDA-requested report “Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques: Ethical, Social, and Policy Considerations.”  The report may be read online, or a prepublication pdf copy may be downloaded for free, at this link. In view is the so-called “3-parent babies” technology, intended to treat inherited diseases of the mitochondria, components (called “organelles”) of a cell that are responsible for producing... // Read More »
February 5, 2016

UK approves gene editing

This week, UK regulators gave approval to a group of scientists in London to genetically modify human embryos. Dr. Kathy Niakan, the researcher who will be performing the experiments, said, “We would really like to understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby. The reason why it is so important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common,... // Read More »
February 4, 2016

The next round of conversations about gene editing

This blog has carried several posts about the ethical issues surrounding gene editing in humans.  The next round of public discussions is scheduled for next week, Feb. 11-12. The National Academies of Science and Medicine have been holding meetings to address the state of the science and the attendant ethical issues.  In December, a first meeting was held in Washington, DC.  That meeting produced a... // Read More »

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Published Articles (50)

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

Germline Manipulation and Our Future Worlds John Harris

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

Human Germline CRISPR-Cas Modification: Toward a Regulatory Framework Niklaus H. Evitt, Shamik Mascharak & Russ B. Altman

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

Engineering Values Into Genetic Engineering: A Proposed Analytic Framework for Scientific Social Responsibility Pamela L. Sankar & Mildred K. Cho

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

CRISPR Critters and CRISPR Cracks R. Alta Charo & Henry T. Greely

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

“Editing” Genes: A Case Study About How Language Matters in Bioethics Meaghan O'Keefe, Sarah Perrault, Jodi Halpern, Lisa Ikemoto, Mark Yarborough & UC North Bioethics Collaboratory for Life & Health Sciences

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 7 - Jul 2015

Looking for Trouble: Preventive Genomic Sequencing in the General Population and the Role of Patient Choice Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz, John M. Conley, Arlene M. Davis, Marcia Van Riper, Rebecca L. Walker & Eric T. Juengst

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 7 - Jul 2015

Preventive Genomic Sequencing in the General Population: Do PGS Fly? Mildred K. Cho

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 6 - Jun 2015

Imposing Genetic Diversity Robert Sparrow

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 6 - Jun 2015

Ruffling a Few Feathers Richard R. Sharp

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 2 - Feb 2015

Collectivizing Rescue Obligations in Bioethics Jeremy R. Garrett

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News (850)

April 12, 2016 8:00 am

How Do 'Genetic Superheroes' Overcome Their Bad DNA?

Scientists say they’ve figured out how to track down people they call “genetic superheroes.” These are people who remain healthy even though they were born with genetic mutations that would usually lead to devastating disorders. If enough of these people can be identified and studied, the researchers hope they could yield important new insights into the causes of many genetic disorders and possibly lead to new ways to prevent or treat them.

March 14, 2016 12:19 pm

When Gene Tests for Breast Cancer Reveal Grim Data but No Guidance

At a time when genetic testing and genetically personalized treatments forcancer are proliferating, buoyed by new resources like President Obama’s $215 million personalized medicine initiative, women with breast cancerare facing a frustrating reality: The genetic data is there, but in many cases, doctors do not know what to do with it.

March 14, 2016 12:18 pm

Screening for Alzheimer’s Gene Tests the Desire to Know

Marty and Matt Reiswig, two brothers in Denver, knew that Alzheimer’s disease ran in their family, but neither of them understood why. Then a cousin, Gary Reiswig, whom they barely knew, wrote a book about their family, “The Thousand Mile Stare.”

February 16, 2016 5:00 pm

How a bite of pizza led to an arrest in the Grim Sleeper serial killer case

For several years before the arrest, a group of detectives worked exclusively on identifying the Grim Sleeper killer, chasing lead after lead down dead ends. In 2010, they got a break: LAPD officials learned that a “familial search” of the DNA database by the California Department of Justice had come up with a convicted felon whose genetic blueprint indicated he was a close relative of the suspect.

February 15, 2016 10:31 am

In Embryo Research We Need Laws First, Then Science

The U.K. Human Fertilization & Embryology Authority (HFEA) decision to approve a study in which researchers will use CRISPR gene-editing technology to alter the genes of human embryos has created such a stir because it is the first such project approved for use in potentially viable human embryos.

February 12, 2016 1:29 pm

Genetic Testing For BRCA Breast Cancer Gene On The Rise In Young Women; Does It Even Influence Treatment Decisions?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women younger than 40 in the U.S. Women who are diagnosed at a young age (under 50) are encouraged to undergo genetic testing to determine if they are carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, since assessing this can have implications for subsequent treatment decisions.

February 9, 2016 4:38 pm

Palo Alto Student Was Asked to Leave School Because of His DNA

To find a society where a student is forced to leave school because of his genes, you might think you’d need to watch “Gattaca” or pick up a dystopian novel.

February 3, 2016 6:19 pm

Ethicists approve “3 parent” embryos to stop diseases, but congressional ban remains

An elite panel of scientists and bioethicists offered guarded approval Wednesday of a novel form of genetic engineering that could prevent congenital diseases but would result in babies with genetic material from three parents.

February 1, 2016 2:14 pm

Tribes’ Win in Fight for La Jolla Bones Clouds Hopes for DNA Studies

The San Diego Archaeology Center holds a pair of extraordinary skeletons. Dating back about 9,500 years, they are among the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas.

January 29, 2016 11:08 am

Landmark schizophrenia study expands on gene link, timing

Scientists say they have broken new ground in the study of schizophrenia, uncovering a potentially powerful genetic contributor to the mental disorder and helping to explain why its symptoms of confused and delusional thinking most often reach a crisis state as a person nears the cusp of adulthood.

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