NASA has unveiled a new space suit design that will provide a more flexible fit, so the astronaut can have more freedom to walk and climb while in space. The New design will be tested out soon. Visit the link above and check out the new look
Sickle cell affects a large number of the population, child and adult. A new study has been done recently to see how affective bone marrow transplants are against sickle cell. In this science news article, linked below it discusses the out come of the study. A group of people underwent chemo to wipe out a majority of the sickle cells before the bone marrow transplant. Out of the group 25 of the people were a success and some of them have even been able to stop taking their medication. A chemo and bone marrow transplant regime may be the key
For more information on this topic go to the link below
So after skimming through The Giant’s Shoulders #72 I found nothing particularly interesting, however, I did find something sort of interesting in the 35th one.
Near the very start of the class we discussed how, in the past, scientific debate consisted mostly of ridicule, and this site has an example of this; an entire book ridiculing Athanasius Kircher and other predecessors of Newton.
I wanted to spend a day on 20th-century chemist Percy Julian, but ran out of time. Here’s a link to the interactive Chemical Heritage Foundation site about Julian’s life. Within the site, the CHF also links the very good NOVA video about Julian.
Greg Miller wrote an article for Wired’s website entitled, “Vintage Pesticide Paraphernalia From the Glory Days of DDT.” The article draws on the collections of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and ties nicely to our recent discussions of Silent Spring. Objects like those shown in the article help historians with an extended set of questions about an historical episode as compared to what we can pull out of books and articles alone.
From the beginning of the twenty-first century, there were a number of looming legal and ethical questions relating to the relatively new field of genetics research. With the Human Genome Project nearing its end, scientists were scrambling to claim discovery of various genes. Because it was such a new area of research and far abstracted from intuitive understanding, many of the important legal issues surrounding genetic research were unresolved. Among them was the issue of whether or not discovered genes were subject to patent. Despite the highly questionable nature of the practice, many companies began successfully filing patents on genes they discovered, speculating that they could make profit off whatever products were derived from the use of that knowledge.
Michael Crichton’s novel Next explores the issue of gene patenting, as well as issues of genetic engineering of humans and transgenic species. Most of his conclusions are pretty clear from reading the novel, but he’s kind enough to spell out his conclusions in the Author’s Note. His most evident claim is that gene patenting is wrong (Crichton, 543-546), but he also concludes that we need to “establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues (Crichton, 546-549);” we must “pass laws to ensure that data about genetic testing is made public (Crichton, 546-549);” we should “avoid bans on research (Crichton, 546-549);” and that rescinding the Bayh-Dole Act is imperative (Crichton, 549-551). Crichton manages to discuss the fringes of science and human experimentation without making claims that “scientists have gone to far,” or “we shouldn’t play god” and instead takes the more nuanced stance that we need to workout the ethical implications of genetic research that will inevitably take place so that we can properly regulate it; this opposed to the ad hoc approach of doing the research and then deciding its acceptability.
The book Next follows a number of characters all following interconnected stories. It begins following a private detective and bounty hunter, Vasco Borden, as he pursues a thief who made off with 12 stolen embryos: setting the scene for a tale of intrigue and corporate espionage (Crichton, 15-17). But after his pursuit goes South, the story turns to Alex and Frank Burnett in court over a legal claim against the University of California (Crichton, 36-38). Alex, Frank’s daughter and attorney, is helping him argue that the University treated him unjustly, leading him to believe he was sick so they could harvest his cells without his consent; the trial is not going well (Crichton 36-44). This is the setup for one of the major plot arcs of the book. Frank loses the case and the University is given the legal rights to harvest his cells to sell to BioGen, a company who patented his cell line. BioGen then takes the stance that it has ownership over Frank’s cell line which includes the cells of his offspring. Biogen seeks to harvest cells from him and then Alex and her son, leading him and Alex to become fugitives from Biogen, hunted by Vasco Borden. This arc is resolved when a higher court rules that BioGen cannot own the Burnett cell line.
This story is then tied in with the story of Rick Diel the CEO of BioGen. Diel is portrayed as a speculator with little concern for ethics; if there is a villain in Next, it is probably Diel. Diel is undergoing a divorce and tries to exploit the possibility his wife has Huntingtons to get custody; she does not want to get tested, yet he argues that if she is going to start experiencing neural degeneration while raising their daughter, that he would surely be more fit a parent. Thus he attempts to force her to undergo genetic testing she does not want, or else give in to his custody demands. His ploy works and his wife escapes him and his attorney — abandoning her custody rights in the process. All the while Diel is dealing with a number of security breaches which ultimately result in the destruction of the Burnett cell line, forcing him to attempt to harvest more cells, leading to the Burnett’s fleeing. Eventually, Diel’s schemes fail and he is forced to resign.
There are a number of other story arcs, all of which are deeply interconnected and revolve around BioGen. Most notably, is the story arc of researcher Henry Kendall, who finds his DNA has been used to create a transgenic ape-boy. Henry saves the ape-boy, whom he names Dave, from being executed to hide the illegal experiment and adopts him as a son. The specifics of how Dave came about discussed in detail as well as the challenges of raising a hybrid ape-boy in a human society. There is also a story arc following a BioGen researcher, Josh, who accidentally infects his brother with a vector that inserts in him the “maturity gene” he’s been researching. It initially seems to cure his brother’s drug addiction, but it leads him to age prematurely and die at 21 of heart failure. Aside from these, there are a number of side stories, all of which relate to modern genetics somehow.
About Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton (1942-2011) was an extremely successful author and screenwriter of science fiction. Today, he is probably best remembered for Jurassic Park, but he also wrote 16 other novels (including The Andromeda Strain, Congo, and The Great Train Robbery), as well as 5 non-fiction books, 11 books under a pseudonym, 2 original screenplays, and produced the hit TV show ER (crichton-official.com). In addition, he made many of his books into movies and helped make his novel The Andromeda Strain into a televisions series (crichton-official.com).
Part of Crichton’s success can surely be attributed to his deep understanding of science. Michael Crichton received his M.D. from Harvard where he graduated Suma Cum Laude (crichton-official.com). He then went on to study Biological Studies as a postdoctoral student at the Salk Institute (crichton-official.com). Crichton subsequently taught a number of college courses (crichton-official.com). As a scientist himself, Crichton understood that scientists were, like everyone else, capable of both good and evil. His books tended to take a nuanced view of scientists; they did not fall into the common trap of claiming that science had “gone to far,” but they also did not idolize science as the key to a utopian world. Instead, Crichton created a sense of wonder and awe in his work: showing how science could be exploited with horrible effects, but also explaining its many benefits to mankind. And the scientists in his stories were not all paragons or villains, but represented a vast array of archetypes and personalities.
The Human Genome Project and Genetic Engineering
The novel Next is centered around modern genetics research. The book was published in 2006 — just 3 years after the completion of the Human Genome Project — which serves as the cornerstone for that research. The Human Genome project began in 1990 and was ongoing till April 2003, when it was completed “ahead of schedule” and “under budget (nih.gov).” The goal of the project was to map the human genome so as to increase our general understanding of human DNA and help us to “understand the genetic factors in human disease (nih.gov).” This was done through the use of gene sequencing technology developed in the 1970s (nih.gov). As of 2013, the NIH reports that it has “fueled the discover of over 1800 disease genes (nih.gov).” The project has dramatically reduced the amount of time required to find disease genes — from several years to several days (nih.gov).
Specifically though, Next focuses on the issue of gene patenting that became common practice in wake of the project. In the book, the company BioGen claims the right to a man’s cells because they control the legal rights to parts of his DNA. While this seems absurd, it is an unfortunate legal ambiguity that arises as a result of allowing companies to patent scientific fact. As of 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring genes were not subject to patent (ScotusBlog). Prior to this, the practice of patenting naturally occurring genes had run rampant. According to National Geographic in 2005, just one year prior to the release of Next, one fifth of the human genome had been patented (nationalgeographic.com). As a result, genetic research became very difficult, since in order to study a particular gene, or develop any product using knowledge of a particular gene, scientists had to negotiate the right to do so with the patent holder of that gene. The purpose of the patent is to provide companies with incentive to do research, but gene patenting very clearly got in the way of that research.
Another area of difficulty for genetic patents is in the creation of genetically modified foods. Clearly a batch of seed genetically engineered to increase crop yield and resist disease is a product of specifically created human processes and is thus subject to patent. The problem is plants reproduce, and Monsanto, a major provider of genetically modified crops, is claiming farmers do not have the right to save the seed from the crops they plant from seed they buy from Monsanto (monsanto.com). They consider saving the seed to replant it to be producing their patented product (monsanto.com). While the courts have sided with Monsanto so far, the ruling is highly questionable. From a practical standpoint, its highly inefficient and makes little sense to tell farmers they simply have to dispose of valuable seeds, just so they can by the same seeds from Monsanto; it seems almost vindictive. And from a more legally rational standpoint, the ruling doesn’t make sense because the farmers aren’t producing the seed using Monsanto’s patented process; the plants make the seed and the farmers simply have the good sense to use it.
Another field brought up in Next was genetic engineering — specifically, the study and creation of transgenic species. Genetic engineering can refer to any means of trying to manipulate genetic structure; in some sense, breeding plants and animals to produce certain traits is genetic engineering. However, in the book and in the common usage, genetic engineering refers to methods of splicing genes from one organism into another, by cutting and combining separate strands of DNA (“Playing God”). In “Playing God,” the second episode in a five part PBS documentary series, a number of scientists, in particular Herbert Boyer, explain the the nature of genetic engineering, its founding, and its evolution as a science. According to the documentary, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen discovered a process for recombining DNA (“Playing God”). The basic idea is that they “cleave” the DNA, cutting off a piece using certain enzymes, and then insert cleaved DNA from another organism in its place (“Playing God”). Boyer later used this process to attach human insulin producing cells to bacteria — thus creating a method to efficiently mass produce insulin to treat diabetics (“Playing God”). Many other drugs are synthesised using similar processes (“Playing God”). The documentary also talked about use of genetic engineering in food production to cut back on disease, and increase yield (“Playing God”).
Next explored the idea of having genes linked to human intelligence and brain development spliced into animals. Dave, an ape with near human intelligence, is such a creature in the story. Dave is not treated as an abomination by the story, but his existence raises a number of troubling questions. His “parents” enroll him in school, and while he functions well enough on a basic level, he has serious attention deficit problems and still exhibits ape like behavior, particularly when under stress. Towards the end of the story, he even responds to attacks on him by biting and throwing feces. The problem Dave creates is that he blurs the line between human and animal and thus makes it very difficult for us to identify his niche. He thinks, speaks, and is within the range of intelligence of other children his age, but he still isn’t quite human. Our society isn’t designed to meet his needs, yet it would be improper to treat him as a non-person. The book never makes judgement about whether or not transgenic species like Dave should exist, it merely raises some questions to consider about what that would mean for us and them. In many ways the book also seems to conclude that its an inevitability that they eventually will.
Genetic engineering is a fascinating and promising field, but its potential to blur the line between man and animal raises a number of ethical concerns. Next explores many of the issues surrounding the controversies of genetic engineering from last decade, many of which are still unresolved. It is encouraging that the Supreme Court ruled natural genes were scientific fact not subject to patent, but there are still many legal issues to be resolved surrounding genetic patents, because reproduction makes things tricky. And as for transgenics, those issues are still in the air as well. We already create transgenic species using human genes, though we have yet to create something that’s clearly a person, but not quite human. Crichton claims though, that it will come. Hopefully, we can answer the tough questions before it does; ad hoc is seldom a good approach to ethics.
“About Michael Crichton.” Constant Contact Productions.
http://www.crichton-official.com/aboutmichaelcrichton-biography.html. Web. July 3.
“Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.” SCOTUSblog. http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/association-for-molecular-pathology-v-myriad-genetics-inc/. 2014. Web. July 3. 2014.
Crichton, Michael. Next. Harper Colins. 2006. e-Book. 2006.
Massarella, Carlo. “Playing God.” DNA. PBS. Video. 2003. (link to video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3wg-W3Slow).
“Human Genome Project.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=45&key=H#H. March 29. 2013. Web. July 3. 2014.
“One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals.” National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1013_051013_gene_patent.html.
Oct 13. 2005. Web. July 3. 2014.
“Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds.” Monsanto.
e-seeds.aspx. Web. July 3. 2014.
Science cannot only be explored through experiments or venturing out in the field but also through literature. Scientific novels allow us to see science through a fictionalized story such as I, Robot. I, Robot is a science fiction that was written by Isaac Asimov in 1950. Along with I, Robot, Asimov has also written several other award winning scientific novels. In I, Robot, several different scientific discoveries, such as expeditions to other planets and creation of robots, are mentioned along with underlying messages on ethics in scientific experiments and psychology.
Isaac Asimov was born on January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi, Russia to proud parents Juda and Anna Asimov. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1923 where his family owned a candy store (Gunn, 1982). Asimov taught himself how to read at the age five, and he skipped a total of one and a half years of grade school during elementary. He completed junior high school in two years instead of the usual three and graduated high school at the age of fifteen. Asimov had the ability to retain information really well, but soon noticed that he lacked ability to grasp mathematics or economics. He began to write a series of books at the age of eleven. Being the elderly son, Asimov’s father wanted him to become a physician rather then writing books. Getting into medical school for Asimov was not easy. Medical schools back then had quotas on the number of Jewish students they could allow, thus Asimov never applied to medical school. He graduated with a bachelors of science degree in chemistry from Columbia University. Then he tried to reapply to medical school again but got rejected again, so he obtained his M. A. in 1941. World War II broke out when he was trying to get his doctorate, so he put a halt to his education to become a chemist at the United States Navy Yard in Philadelphia. In 1948, Asimov finally earned his degree and was offered to work at Boston University School of Medicine as an instructor in biochemistry. His passion to write scientific novels never really left him, and once again began to write. He published his first story Marooned of Vesta in April 1940 in the Amazing Stories.
Asimov’s writing carrier started to take off to the point were he was making more from his books then his job at Boston University School of Medicine (Gunn, 1982). Originally, Asimov had published several individual stories about robots in the 1940’s, and it was not until 1950 that he combined Robbie, Runaround, Reason, Catch that Rabbit, Liar!, Little Lost Robot, Escape!, Evidence, and The Evitable Conflict into what is known today as I, Robot. He made these individual stories to be a part of a whole story depicting Susan Calvin’s life. By the end of his career, Asimov had received eight Hugo awards and two Nebulas. In 1983, everything came to halt when Asimov had to receive a heart bypass. A blood transfusion
had taken place during the procedure, and the blood used had been tainted with HIV. In 1992, Asimov died of AIDS.
I, Robot is essentially nine short stories blended together to seem like events that occurred in Doctor Susan Calvin’s life time while working at United States Robot and Mechanical Men Incorporation. The introduction starts out by giving a brief background of Dr. Calvin. An interview (who’s name never gets mentioned) wanted to know more about Dr. Calvin’s life while working for U. S. Robots to feature an article in Interplanetary Press. Susan goes on telling the interviewer nine different stories about robots all revolving around the ethics on creating and using robots. The first story is about the first robot ever made in 1996. His name was Robbie and was sold to be a nursemaid. In this story, the mother is afraid Robbie will get “some little jiggers” and “will go berserk” hurting her daughter Gloria (Asimov, p. 25). Mr. Weston reminds his wife “that it is impossible for a robot to harm a human being” thus Gloria is perfectly fine playing with Robbie. Eventually the Weston’s get rid of Robbie, and Susan continues to talk about U. S. Robots. She then mentions the Second Mercury Expeditions led by Michael Donovan and Gregory Powell with the help of robots. The next chapter is called Runaround, and Dr. Susan talks about the accident Powell and Donavan ran into with a robot called Speedy. Donavan had told Speedy to get selenium without putting urgency into the order. Certain terrains on Mercury were harmful to both humans and robots, so when Speedy went to collect selenium he ran into a dilemma. The third law would not allow him to get close enough to the selenium pool, but the second law made him obey Donavan’s order. Powell and Donavan eventually figure out how to make Speedy get selenium back to the station in a timely fashion.
The third chapter mentions another run in Powell and Donavan have with a robot called Cutie. Cutie believed he had a higher intellectual Master who had built him and would only obey to the Master. Powell figured out Cutie is a reasoning robot and there was not getting through to Cutie. The two men leave the station after knowing Cutie could handle the station alone and go back home to a six month vacation. Upon arriving back to U. S. Robots, a new robot had been created. The new robot was one big robot with six tinier robots working underneath named Dave. Dave malfunctioned and could not control six robots at a time decreasing his initiative. Gregory figures out that Dave can only be in charge of five robots at a time in order to fully function properly. The interview stops Susan from mentioning any other robots in space and asked her about robots on Earth.
She mentions her own run in with Herbie the “lying robot”. Herbie was the first mind reading robot ever created due to an error during the creation of his positronic brain. Dr. Susan, who is also a robopsychologists, figured out that Herbie was just obeying the first law of robotics, and thus would lie about things when questioned.
Herbie could read what people were thinking and what they wanted, so he would lie to them to make sure he would not hurt them.
In the next chapter, Dr. Susan mentions the creation of a ship from The Brain at U. S. Robots. Consolidated Robots approached them wanting to know what was wrong with their ship design, so they had The Brain replicate a new ship. The Brain was told to look at all the paper work , and to reject anything back with discrepancies. However, The Brain just fixed whatever was wrong and built a new ship. Powell and Donavan get stuck in the ship, and The Brain send the ship off into space. Not knowing where the two had been, Dr. Susan and others started to worry, but she knew The Brain had to still abide by the first law thus The Brain would keep the two scientist out of harms way. With this mishap, the government perfected the Jump through hyperspace allowing human colonies on other planets.
Dr. Calvin mentioned all the new discoviries that had occurred along with the several mishaps, but she told the interview that what happened on Earth in the last fifty years was what really mattered. She mentions how Stephen Byerley changed the public’s view on robots. The world has split up into Regions with Byerley as the World Co-ordinator and each region having a Vice-Co-ordinator. Each region focused on different aspects of the economy with robots along side humans. The robots would help calculate things such as how long it would take to finish a canal, how long it would take to grow crops, or how many resources were available to grow crops. The Machines were running the future of the world according to Dr. Calvin, and she believed that the “Society for Humanity” was right when they said that The Machines were taking over humans. The book ends by stating
“It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand-at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Not the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society,-having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy (Asimov, 1950).”
Dr. Calvin saw everything form the beginning of creating the robots to them standing between mankind and destruction. At the end she tells the interviewer she will see no more and resigned.
Asimov mentioned several robots throughout his novel. Robotics in the 1940s and 1950s was based on two technologies: mathematical control and teleoperators (“World-Information”). In 1940, Asimov released his first short story called “A Strange Playfellow” stating the three laws of robotics (Isom).
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
In I, Robot, Asimov mentions his first robot called Robbie who worked through mathematical inputs as well. As time went on, the robots became more intelligent as they did in Asimov’s stories. Alen
Newell and Herber Simon created the Logic Theorist, which was the first expert system that was used to solve difficult math problems (Isom). More research started to take place in artificial intelligence in 1949 (World-Information), which led to the development of the first industrialized used robots. In 1954, George Devol and Joe Enleberger created the first robot ‘arm’ (Isom). With the increase in development of technology in the 1950s, history changed on
October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched their very first spaceship, the Sputnik (Garber, 2007). The space race had begun, and the United States started to create robots and spaceship to be sent into space to study the moon and other plants. On August 20, 1975, the United States launched the Viking equipped with the first space robot (Viking 01). Robotics further advanced from not only being used for expeditions or industrial prototypes, but as well in medicine. In 1998, Dr. David Gow created the first bionic arm called the Edinburgh Modular Arm System to allow disabled individuals to perform independent daily activities (Patel).
With more advancements that had occurred in science, Asimov created more stories such as “Lair!,” “Reason,” “Little Lost Robot,” etc. The robots in his stories also progressively became more advanced, and he also included sever voyages to different planets with these robots. He even went beyond his time era and mentioned humans living on other planets with Machines along their sides guiding their future. I believe that newer discoveries in robotics and space expeditions during Asimov’s time influenced each one of his robot stories, but one key aspect in Asimov’s stories was the ethics behind all these experiments.
Asimov’s whole book is based on the ethics behind robotics. He was the first person to create the three laws of robotics. The first robot Asimov talked about was Robbie.
“Robbie was constructed for one one purpose really-to be the companion of a little child. His entire ‘mentality’ has been created for the purpose.”
This quote reveals how Asimov believed ethically robots are created with a sole purpose and will do just so. He later went on discussing how Robbie will always uphold the three laws engraved into him further solidifying how ethically Robbie was created. When robots began to become more complicated and further advance, Asimov creates stories about robots that malfunctioned. For example, when
the First Law was not impression in the NS-2 model robots in the chapter “Little Lost Robot”, the robots lost the capability to protect humans as their number one priority. I believe the underlying message Asimov is trying to state is that you should not tamper with things far past their limits especially when the knowledge is no present. He was the first person to even come up with the idea of robots, but he knew some laws had to be created in order to keep things in line.
Asimov at his time was the father of science fiction novels publishing over a hundred sci-fi novels. He took his knowledge of current scientific discoveries into play when writing his books, but he also tried to predict the future in robotics. Asimov depicted his story in such way to reveal not only the different aspects of robotics and expeditions but also the key role of ethics (a.k.a. his three laws of robotics) in scientific experiments and discoveries.
A few interviews with Isaac Asimov that are worth watching.
Asimov, Isaac. I, robot. New York: Bantam Books, 1950. Print.
Garber, Steve . “Sputnik.” Sputnik. N.p., 10 Oct. 2007. Web. 30 June 2014. <http://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/>.
Gunn, James E.. Isaac Asimov, the foundations of science fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. Print.
“Isaac Asimov.” Isaac Asimov. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2014. <http://www.nndb.com/people/702/000023633/>.
Patel, V. R., M. F. Chammas, and S. Shah. “Robotic assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy: a review of the current state of affairs.” International Journal of Clinical Practice 61.2 (2007): 309-314. Print.
“Viking 01.” Solar System Exploration. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 July 2014. <http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/profile.cfm?Sort=Alpha&Letter=V&Alias=Viking%2001>.
“World Biography.” Isaac Asimov Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2014. <http://www.notablebiographies.com/An-Ba/Asimov-Isaac.html>.
“World-Information.Org.” World-Information.Org. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 July 2014. <http://world-information.org/wio/infostructure/100437611663/100