Thursday, February 4, 2016

Aukward Law

The Long Now Foundation posted a story on February 4, 2016, describing a wonderful meeting I had the honour of participating in last summer at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, U.K..  The meeting was organized and hosted by peerless peer and gifted author (most recently of The Evolution of Everything - How Ideas Emerge), Matt Ridley.  Key inspirations were champions of deextinction Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan, along with Ben Novak, lead researcher for the Long Now Foundation's Revive & Restore Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) project.  Together with an expert group of genomicists, geneticists, developmental biologists, ecologists, and others, we explored how the Great Auk (Pinguinis impennis) might be brought back from extinction.  I contributed a legal and policy framework for reviving and reintroducing the Great Auk from oblivion.

The Great Auk is extinct.  Long live the Great Auk!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Human CRISPR Becomes Clearer

The agency responsible for regulating reproductive biology in the United Kingdom ("U.K."), the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ("HFEA"), has made the U.K. the first democracy to approve the application of CRISPR/Cas9 to human embryos.  (Similar experiments took place in China in 2015, causing a firestorm of controversy.)  Here is its February 1, 2016, announcement:
Our Licence Committee has approved an application from Dr Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute to renew her laboratory’s research licence to include gene editing of embryos. 
The committee has added a condition to the licence that no research using gene editing may take place until the research has received research ethics approval. 
As with all embryos used in research, it is illegal to transfer them to a woman for treatment.
This is a momentous step in CRISPR/Cas9 research, and one that is sure to create tremendous pressure for similar regulatory approvals among other democracies fearing they might fall behind in this revolutionary biotechnology.  Le déluge vient.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Gilbergstrom and Sullivan

With his permission, I would like to post the lyrics of my brilliant friend Carl Bergstrom's wonderful new song "Modern Research Parasite".  Built on a rhythmic scaffold provided by Gilbert and Sullivan's "Major-General's Song" from The Pirates of Penzance, enjoy Carl's masterpiece. Here it is:
I am the very model of a modern research parasite,
I build on other research leaving only here-and-there a cite.
I know the Nobel laureates and quote the fights cladistical,
From Felsenstein to Farris using language most statistical. 
I can passage flu in ferrets to endanger all humanity,
And argue open access until Harnad sounds like Hannity.
I know our mythic history, from Galen to Chetverikov,
And advocate the medicines you cannot get generic of. 
I’ve memorized the sequence of each ENCODE base of DNA,
And I can tell at sight Feng Zhang from Doudna and Charpentier.
But still I need your data like anemics need their ferrocite.
I am the very model of a modern research parasite.
For more context, check out Carl's Twitterstream:  @CT_Bergstrom.  I hope Carl gets the band back together so he can post his live rendition on YouTube.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trademark Parking

Private trademarks involving public parks might seem an odd juxtaposition.  However, this phenomenon may not be as rare as one might suppose.  For instance, Donald J. Trump has apparently registered federal trademark rights in "Central Park".  Now a trademark dispute has erupted over the names of several famous hotels located inside Yosemite National Park.  As a consequence, these iconic hotels may soon have new monikers.  For example, the Ahwahnee Hotel may transform into the much more prosaic "Majestic Yosemite Hotel".  What's next?  Perhaps Yosemite itself could be renamed "A Few Hours East of San Francisco National Park"?  Changing such famous names is bound to cause controversy, as NPR discussed on January 19, 2016.

Detaching trademarks from these famous hotels would certainly cause consumer confusion, not to mention consumer disillusionment.  On the other hand, since a new company would be managing the hotels, there could also be consumer confusion as to the source of hotel management if the names were to remain the same.  Negotiations are most likely proceeding between the departing manager of the hotels, Delaware North, and incoming managers, Aramark, because, with the hotels detached from their trademarked names, the value of the trademarks to anyone is likely to decay rapidly.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


The leading scientific journal Nature has reported possible shenanigans in research on the genetically-modified organisms ("GMOs") at the University of Naples.  As the article relates,
Papers that describe harmful effects to animals fed genetically modified (GM) crops are under scrutiny for alleged data manipulation. The leaked findings of an ongoing investigation at the University of Naples in Italy suggest that images in the papers may have been intentionally altered. The leader of the lab that carried out the work there says that there is no substance to this claim.
Peer reviewed biological research finding adverse health effects from GMOs is elusive.  Nature points out that
The papers’ findings run counter to those of numerous safety tests carried out by food and drug agencies around the world, which indicate that there are no dangers associated with eating GM food.
This research, and the allegations of misconduct it has spawned, should provide much food for thought among both opponents and proponents of food biotechnology.  Bon appétit!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Star Wars: A New Hip

I finally saw the Star Wars Episode VII. Here is my review.

The Force Awakens is a fine workmanlike film. If it were the final project of a student, it would earn a B+. This is a good grade, really, though one that leaves ample room for improvement. Frankly, I, like many people, was relieved that it was not bad. Here is my new hope: the series will wipe the sleep out of its eyes, stretch, get out of bed, and go about its day without a yawn.

The two major themes of the Star Wars series appear to be (1) kids rebel against their parents and (2) bad guys are obsessed with death stars. The first of these is certainly universal, and, to be sure, the far more frightening of the two. Just ask any parent. The second must now have reached its physical limit. Having struck out three times, the dark force forces should really rethink how best to impose evil on the entire cosmos. Death stars are not the way. Things are now so bad for the bad that perhaps they should resort to the last of last resorts: management consultants. Surely McKinsey & Company could offer some innovative new approaches to managing evil change. How about more relatable names for Sith, such as Freddy, Diane, George, or Simone, or even new colors for lightsabers, like pink, pinstripe, paisley, or rainbow?  Rock stars, throwing stars, or even star fruit would be far preferable to Star Wars' apparent death stare decisis.

Now, what about casting?  It was fun to see prominent crossovers and veteran actors. One wonders if Kylo Ren will soon be joined by his partner Kylo Stimpy. What a brave decision to cast a Teletubby, Po, as the leading rebel pilot, when Tinky Winky would obviously have been a far safer choice! Including Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewbacca was a poignant reminder of the perils of an inadequate retirement insurance system. Finally, The Force Awakens provided a reminder of how universal British accents are throughout the universe, whether for baddies or goodies, though I question the quixotic decision that allowed actress Daisy Ridley to speak in her plummy native Westminster accent while fellow Brit John Boyega had to exchange the dulcet tones of his British accent for a less mellifluous Yankee drawl.

May the Force fully awaken in the next installment!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Clearer CRISPR Law

I had the pleasure of speaking about legal regulation of CRISPR/Cas9 and gene drives at the National Academies on December 8, 2015, as part of the ILAR Roundtable "Gene Editing to Modify Animal Genomes for Research ­ Scientific and Ethical Considerations".  Here is my talk:

These new biological methods for editing genes and propagating those edits throughout cells and populations represent a revolution.  I look forward to covering attendant issues as they arise.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Canadian Pollution Dilution Solution

Catherine McKenna, the newly-minted Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change, is learning just how dirty governing can be.  In her first major decision as a member of Justin Trudeau's Liberal Cabinet, she held her nose and effectively gave the city of Montreal permission to release 8 000 000 000 litres of raw sewage into the Saint Lawrence River.  Staying true to the second part of her ministerial title, her approval is sure to change the downstream climate of this great river, especially for the unfortunate birds, fish, seals, and cetaceans who will be inundated with human waste.  As the new Liberal government of Canada has already begun to learn, sometimes government stinks.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Battle Royal

Early this morning (November 2, 2015), the Kansas City Royals bested the New York Mets by exploding for five runs in the 12th inning.  When I was a kid, the Royals were the enemy for beating my beloved Toronto Blue Jays in 1985, denying my home team its first opportunity to win a World Series championship.  When the Jays won not one, but two, World Series back to back, in 1992 and 1993, forgiveness began to take root.  This year, I found myself cheering both the Jays and the Royals.  In the end, I was delighted to watch the Royals win their second World Series championship, showing more grit, determination, and sheer joy than I remember seeing in any professional baseball team.  My Royal pain transformed into Royal treatment.  Congratulations, Kansas City Royals, on being 2015 World Series champions!