CRISPR and CAS9 – Key to the cure for everything?

This is fascinating research: The biggest biotech discovery of the century is about to change medicine forever . Basically they have found a way to use the bodies naturally immune system to allow creative recoding of your DNA.

Fan of the Jason Bourne / Treadstone novels/films? Remember the plot of the last one – The Bourne Legacy? Well, the whole premise of the film is encapsulated in that above research. Sure, maybe they don’t have the knowledge – yet – for that level of ‘super soldier’, but they just did not have the delivery system for it. It is no longer a case of science fantasy in a thriller but actual, cutting edge fact.

Extracts from the above article :

They crafted molecules that could enter a microbe and precisely snip its DNA at a location of the researchers’ choosing. In January 2013, the scientists went one step further: They cut out a particular piece of DNA in human cells and replaced it with another one.

In the same month, separate teams of scientists at Harvard University and the Broad Institute reported similar success with the gene-editing tool.

Some scientists have repaired defective DNA in mice… Plant scientists have used CRISPR to edit genes in crops… Some researchers are trying to rewrite the genomes of elephants, with the ultimate goal of re-creating a woolly mammoth. Writing last year in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, Motoko Araki and Tetsuya Ishii of Hokkaido University in Japan predicted that doctors will be able to use CRISPR to alter the genes of human embryos “in the immediate future.”

If you’ve eaten yogurt or cheese, chances are you’ve eaten CRISPR-ized cells.

As a doctor, bioengineer or any related disciplines you’ll study this and see a hope for cures to Alzheimer’s, cancer, aging even.

As a fantasy fan, whether Jurassic park (which this stuff IS being used for!!!) or Anne McCaffreys dragons of Pern you can only look and sigh happily “oooh”.

As a horror fan, well, Here Be Monsters.

As a conspiracy theorist, you can bet your shirt and top 10 favourite sites and forums that the military are all over this. Rogue Trooper in the flesh? Yep, they’d do that. Racial targeting with a pandemic? Absolutely.

As an aging programmer with an interest in all the above, you see elegant potential for all ills, but perhaps not in our lifetime. But you also foresee formatting errors. You see it ‘does not compile’. And perhaps you remember Microsoft’s Bill Gates and their very public and embarrassing BSoD… You may envision any or all of these every time they tinker.

It’s not a great stretch of the imagination to see that within this technology the dystopia of films like Gattaca (1997) and Elysium (2013) being brought to reality. Similarly, the ‘super soldiers’ of comics, books, games and movies as diverse as 2000 AD’s Rogue Trooper, Warhammers’ Space Marines, Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series and the (sometimes dire) Universal Soldier series (Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgrem). Even Captain America, for Marvel fans. Then – and perhaps the most likely scenario – there’s the Dark Angel television series (Jessica Alba). That has it all. Super soldiers, genetic side-effects from splicing animal DNA into humans, and, in one episode, wiping out a Chinese community in Seattle to test a targeted virus.

Same old, same old, really. The rich get healthier – and richer. The rest, well they won’t be able to afford the designer medicines. Unless they really screw up a BSoD in genetics, then there’s no winners.

Unsung Hero : Best commerical ever?

Perhaps ironic that it was made by an insurance company, but I doubt many bankers or politicians would ever ‘get’ this commercial. The concept is, I believe, too alien to them!

If you are want to look at more of their advert, their youtube page is : Thai Life

It rather reminds me of something I saw, or read once, a classroom scene with young children at a private school:

Teacher: What do you want to be when you grow up, Anna?
Anna: “A doctor, like my auntie, miss.”

Teacher: “And you, Barry?”
Barry: “An airforce pilot, like my brother, miss.”

Teacher: “What about you, Cedric?”
Cedric: “I will be a corporate lawyer, like my father.”

Teacher: “Dennis?”
Dennis: “Happy, miss.”

Teacher: “Happy? I don’t think you understand the question, Dennis. I asked what you want to be when you grow up.”
Dennis: “No miss, I understand the question, but I don’t think you understand life.”

To Infinity and beyond. The joys of changing Internet providers

As a long-time Internet user, the first question in my mind when considering moving house isn’t access to public transport, shops, crime rates, parks, it’s: "What’s the broadband access like there?"

For our new address, BT quoted June the following year for fibre. By the time we moved this was put back to ‘July to September 2013′. On top of this, the ADSL we ordered got screwed up by admin errors and left us nearly an extra month without a connection. When they finally connected us – for a 20Mb/s line – we got under 500kb/s at best and even that would drop out for days at a time. I was fuming.

(I also found out, as we moved, they’d been overcharging me by 100% for years because I was on an obsolete tariff – and ‘No you can’t have a refund, you should have known!’. I was tempted to tell BT to get stuffed there and then and cancel the order but it meant yet another month without a phone or Internet.)

Many increasingly angry calls, passing weeks and several engineer call-outs were followed by them repairing and replacing two miles of copper between here and the exchange – each time threatening me with huge charges if it was my fault (that their aging cable was corroded). It was sorted, eventually, albeit with dropouts at first, though at this distance from the actual exchange our 20Mb/s dropped to only 6Mb/s. This was a fraction of the speed we were used to but adequate while we waited for the much televised Infinity fibre-optic in a few months. September 2013 drifted to 2014 and floated away to mid to late 2015. Maybe.

We estimate that BT Infinity will become available to you between April 2015 and September 2015. Please note that these dates have been provided by our supplier and are estimates. They might change because of factors outside our control such as delays agreeing cabinet locations with your local council or problems during the construction of your street cabinet.

When – if – it ever arrives, a 76Mb/s Infinity 2 will set me back £43 a month, including line rental. Basically the same price I’m paying for a bare pots based ADSL2. For £41.5 (£47.50 after 1st year) I can get a stonkingly fast 152mb/s cable line from Virgin.

I could have had this before we moved in but I still remember the service (or lack thereof) and dodgy practices of Telewest before Branson took over and decided to stay with what I knew worked OK, while I waited, and waited for British Telecomm.

Finally gave up last month and ordered a Virgin line. The engineer arrived. Then three more vans. Several hours later they all left, promising to return a few weeks later and try again!

The things you learn, eh. Apparently Virgin have been losing millions a year due to other contractors (council, gas, water, etc) digging up roads, cutting though or concreting over other providers lines and basically going, Crap, Fred, fill that hole in and dig over there, we were never here!. Lawyers are doing OK out of this as everyone sues and counter-sues everyone else for this.

This month then, they returned en-mass. I think I counted four vans and six blokes for the digging and wiring crews as they pulled up cable covers between here and the nearest cabinet and, where necessary, cut new grids. Fiddly job I guess as it took them 8 hours to replace a length of cable to a cabinet that I can hit with a rock from the garden! An hour later more installation engineers arrived to finish off the job, in the dark. All said and done, it took at least 6 vans and 8 or more men to connect one cable!

Result! :


A day or so later my wife asked if we’d had any calls and no, nothing. We were even free of incessant PPI, conservatory, survey and solar panel calls! Well, until a friend emailed to see if we were OK as no-one was answering the phone. Couple of tests later and yep, we can ring out, but that’s it.

This morning yet another Virgin engineer come out to check the line, does a few tests, talks to their teams and scratches his head, saying, Well, they’ve never heard of this either.. My line is live – with two different providers. I can ring out with Virgin, but only receive calls from BT. In a changeover this is normal for a few hours as things propagate, but in my case things were raised, cancelled, raised again and lost in the ether.

Assuring me all would be normal – but give it up to ten day – he left. I got my breakfast, turned on my computer and stared at the ‘!’ lingering above my network button. Whatever they did to port the phone, killed the Internet, so yet another engineer is returning tomorrow.

My Internet now looks like this, below, as I had to reconnect to the still live ADSL router:


Comparing BT’s ADSL to the cheaper cable offering from Virgin was an eye-opener, though in truth, in regular usage, we can’t see the difference. It does make a huge difference uploading though.


My poor rack cabinet is a nest of routers, hubs and patch panels until this is sorted. Or a more cluttered next of wires than usual at any rate! Smileys mind boggles

If you’ve not checked your connection in a while, try Ookla’s Speedtest. (Free, if you wondered).

Update: Virgin engineer came around first thing this morning (next day) and tracked the problem to the cabinet. Someone has done another job in there and unplugged my line! Sorted now and back up to 156Mb/s down, 12.3Mb/s up and 14ms ping.

A few sobering facts

Here’s a few sobering facts to think about when you wonder about the future.

Population :
When I was born there were 3.1 billion people on the planet. As I write this there are now nearly 7.3 billion and that number is accelerating. At what point do we start to run out of resources like food, water, fuel?

Money :
A million dollars: $1,000,000
A billion dollars: $1,000,000,000
A trillion dollars $1,000,000,000,000

According to wikipedia, the Forbes rich list (2014) numbers 1645 billionaires :
Their total worth $6,400,000,000,000
Their average worth $3,890,577,508

Put into perspective:
The total world GDP is $75,000,000,000,000

These few wealthy individuals are worth nearly 10% of the planet.

Current world population 7,300,000,000
Their worth/population $876.71

To get your head round this, the few (legitimate) billionares on the Forbes list
can give every person on the planet nearly $1,000 each – and not miss it. They can end world poverty 4x over, but they and the upper tier of rich ultra elite that own and control at least 80% of the wealth, property – and power – on the planet can’t help themselves from grasping at more and more at any cost (to others).

You might also want to read :

A trillion dollars spread out

(Image source : Bigfunzone )


What Literary Character Is Your Mental Twin?

Hermione Granger for me :

Nurturing and endlessly thirsty for knowledge, your mental twin is the one and only Hermione Granger. Incredibly booksmart, your innate ability to absorb conceptual information is only matched by your deep compassion for others. Much of your life is governed by a finely tuned moral compass, one that not only you but many loved ones rely on as well. Above all else, you are a tremendous friend – loyal, heroic, responsible, and infallibly dependable. You may or may not consider books as friends as well, but don’t worry – your secret’s safe with us!

Black Friday and marketing conformity

Black Friday descends once more on the UK and the world. Frenzied crowds pushing and shoving, fights in the ailses as literally millions of people pile into Asda, Tesco and other stores promising slashed price bargains for the first few through the door.

Riots ensue, store are closed within minutes, police called out, ambulances called out.

I like a bargain as much as the next person but this mindless crowd mentality baffles me, it’s not logical.

I am brought to mind of a figure entitled Doing what is expected: the power of the situation (from Investigating Psychology by Brace and Byford). The images shows three pictures, one of a WWI trench charge (ordered into a hail of bullets), a football crowd (following the referee) and a crowd by a zebra crossing (obeying a traffic officer). Seems to me the mayhem pictures in the news stories linked below would fit well in there.

But who is the authority figure here? Where is Milgram’s ‘experimenter’? He’s there, hiding in plain sight, innocuous, passive – insidious. He’s there when you turn on the TV in the corner and the bold adverts promise to make YOUR Christmas special with a 40″ screen slashed by 70% in price. He’s there when you open the paper and similar offers lure you. You turn on the computer and web pages bombard you from all sides of the screen. You think to escape to the pub or the park for walk and a friend or neighbour will ask if you too are going to Asda for the Black Friday bargains…

What makes a rational, normal person, fall for an advertising campaign like that – to the extend they will attack others (and be attacked in turn) to make sure THEY get the bargain. They MUST have that cheap LCD or ‘Frozen’ bedcover.

One has to wonder how many psychologists turn to the dark side and join Lord Vader, working away in the marketing departments for the multi-nationals.

Similarly for those feverishly watching bargains on-line, credit card at the ready, heart racing as the big clock times down the minutes and seconds.

… to buy old stock that the manufacturers and major stores have spun your way to clear stock for the new products to be released shortly. Black Friday, as far as I can tell, is inventory management tottering in high-heels and a black dress before the gullible masses.

Black Friday, Asda 2014

I got a Dyson but I don’t even know if I want it. I just picked it up, Louise Haggerty, a 56-year-old hairdresser and waitress, said of her 1am trip to the Black Friday sales. It was mental in there. It was crazy. It was absolutely disgusting, disgusting.

Black Friday article by the Guardian, 2014

Yet they still conform!

Daily Mail : Black Friday mayhem: Police called to dozens of supermarkets as shoppers fight over bargains in hunt for Christmas deals

BBC: ‘Black Friday': Police called to supermarket crowds

So it’s a new thing, right? Not like anyone really gets hurt, right?

NY 2008 : Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede.

One person from the crowd, interviewed by police, justified his part in the pushing (and trampling) by saying "I was in line since Friday morning!" (For 20 dollars off a PS3.)

Another, more shocked witness at the scene said that the "shoppers acted like ‘savages’ ", while one of the dead man’s colleagues asked, "”How could you take a man’s life to save $20 on a TV?"

How indeed.