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review 2018-01-04 15:12
Rise of the Necrofauna by Britt Wray
Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction - George Earl Church,Britt Wray

I spent quite a lot of this book wondering why I was reading it. A lot of its arguments felt presented back-to-front and it fell to two stars after it quoted the Bible. Yes, the science discussed is interesting but a reasonable argument  for wanting to bring back extinct mammoths in some form wasn't presented until a hundred or so pages in. Until that point I just couldn't understand why someone would think that bringing back a species that hasn't been around for 4000 years and died out quite naturally had a rationale. (It has to do with temperature regulation of the steppe and that environment actually being significantly colder with herd animals trampling the snow – good news for the methane trapped in the arctic permafrost). Pleistocene Park is a cool concept that I may have to look into more, although it's entirely possible that science behind it amounts to mostly wishful thinking.

 

Otherwise I feel that a quotation by Tom Gilbert about de-extinction that Wray used on page 77 was very much apropos:

"I think it is a very cool project technologically, but most of the environmental reasons people use to justify why we should do it are silly or wrong."

And some of them just weren't very compelling, or didn't seem to have been well thought out. Sure, 150 years is a very short period of time, but look at how the rural/urban landscape has changed in that time. What's the point of trying to bring something back if it'll just die out again? It's a waste of resources. People already complain about pigeons, so why would passenger pigeons be any different?

 

That said, Wray's conclusion is quite reasonable:

"I think our biggest challenge, if we are to pursue it fully and with increasing fervor, is to somehow couple de-extinction with improved strategies to overcome the larger structural issues that endanger species in the wild. Without expanding on the hard work that conservationists, environmentalists, and some politicians have been doing for decades, de-extinction risks being done in vain."

So yeah, the science is cool and should be pursued because of its potential impact on other areas of conservation, but I remain unconvinced in general.

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review 2017-12-24 04:11
Genetics gone wild...and woolly
Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures - Ben Mezrich

YES. That is literally what I have written first in my notes for today's book review. Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich is the perfect mixture of technical science and literary narrative. This book tells the story of Dr. George Church and the Revivalists (a group under his tutelage) who are trying to do what has been thought impossible: Bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. (I have to wonder if the author received a financial backing from this group because if he didn't then he certainly deserves one. He's a major fanboy.) Mezrich covers not only their attempts at this breakthrough in science but also their competition from Seoul which owns the market on DNA cloning. The company in Seoul believes it is possible to find a complete DNA strand while Church's group thinks that the DNA will be too degraded. They're working from pieces of DNA and splicing together traits unique to woolly mammoths with the hope that a viable fetus can be carried by an Asian elephant. A scientific group dedicated to the reversal of extinction of local flora and fauna in Siberia has begun work on Pleistocene Park which is most likely going to be a functioning reality but will take several years. This is where the woolly mammoths (who wouldn't be technically true mammoths) will reside. The controversy and hubris of scientists (especially geneticists who write DNA/RNA) is extensively discussed and is fascinating to me (and I'd imagine to most laymen). However, this isn't only about the woolly mammoth. It's also an in-depth biography of George Church and how he came to be one of the leading figures in genetics. Total 10/10.

 

What's Up Next: Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

 

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 2 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place

 

Source: Https://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2013-09-21 00:00
Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves - George M. Church;Ed Regis Following a evolutionary timescale, the authors introduce you from the "greatest story ever", the story of the genome, all the way to synthetic genomics. Here are some points I found interesting and worth discussing among many other things you could find:

First of all, on the Late Hadean period you will be introduced on abiogenesis, is it possible that organic molecules can arise from inorganic molecules? Darwin knew, when he wrote On the Origin of Species, that he wasn't ready to answer this even though he did hypothesize about the primordial soup necessary for the arise of these complex molecules.

In the chapter of the Paleocene epoch, they introduce you to the evolution of the mammalian immune system, which is when it took place. This is the epoch that followed dinosaurs extinction around 65-55 myas. Now, with this approach on the immunology system they make an example of how the use of synthetic genomics could be applied on this era. For example, through inserting the lux gene from Vibrio fischeri into a newly engineered invasive organism inv+ E. coli gave the researchers a genetically resided bacterium that could distinguish among cells with different densities and selectively invade on higher density cells such as tumor or cancer cells. So eventually, genetically modified bacteria could be used for cancer treatments. I wonder what people terrified with GMO food products will think about the possibility of inserting a bacteria to treat cancer??? My advise: Don't tell them to avoid panic!

Another example of these modified bacteria is the possibility to alter E. coli to synthesize PYY (3-36), which is a peptide produced in mammalian colon cells responsible for satiety regulation. I find this fascinating, as obesity is one of the major health problems we are facing today.

Later on, making a stop on the Pleistocene period: the age of massive glaciation and global cooling you will read on Nuclear transfer cloning. What do you think on the possibility to bring back a Neanderthal or a mammoth??? One of the arguments mentioned is that this cloning can introduce new genes back into the pool of species for diversity. Remember that diversity is extremely important on the evolution of our species. Well, wouldn't this be against Natural selection or anti Darwinian??? If their genes were already eliminated by our gene pool why bring them back? What new abilities could this possibly offer to our species. It does sound pretty interesting though, it could definitely give us a better understanding of our and their past.

On the Neolithic period: Stone Age and the beginning of agriculture and the greatest transformation towards our civilization. In which he makes an analogy of artificial selection through the domestication of plants and animals with synthetic biology. First "domesticating" E. coli to produce insulin, EPO or monoclonal antibodies among other uses through gene modification. Later for production of biofuels, new drugs and GMOs and now on the phase creating synthetic genomic enterprises.

Well, I don't want to ruin or spoil your reading because there are many great topics I could endlessly keep on debating on this book and on every chapter you will definitely find something worth discussing or stop and give it a thought. Personally I love genetics and I like to imagine all the fascinating possibilities that synthetic genomics could give rise in our health and our environment. Will the rise of genetic engineering lead us to the development of a better species, perhaps a Homo sapiens 2.0???? and, are we really ready to face the challenges that genetic engineering can give us? I think we are. Of course, science will have to continue facing many challenges regarding ethics, humanism, religion, political and economical, but at the end science is about understanding our past and looking for our best options towards our future and our survival.

My recommendation: Read this book. It is well written and in a simple way anyone can understand and enjoy from the RNA era to an epigenetics epilogue, to give you an idea how genetics has and will continue to influence our lives.
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