Science

With the successful creation of DNA vaccines that elicited immune protection from Zika infection, hope is on the rise in the fight against this awful virus.
Information is instant. I remember the moment when this fact of the digital age was made unequivocally clear to me. It was the summer of 2014 in Montreal and I felt my room shake. A truck? Thunder? An earthquake? An earthquake. The news was up on Twitter faster than it seemed possible to type. Yet, as the internet breathes immediacy into almost all forms of communication, the dissemination of biological findings has remained embarrassingly slow. Research routinely takes years to be shared, hindering the speed at which science progresses.
“Would you rather live forever or die in the next five seconds?” This question was posed to me recently and I was flummoxed. Most people, according to the asker, say they would die in the next five seconds. It took me much longer than five seconds to answer, so I guess I was already doomed to an eternal life and to the painful demands of being a thinking, sentient lifeform forever.

From the perspective of noise, CRISPR systems are modern biology’s closest approximation to Beyonce’s Lemonade or Game of Thrones: buzz-worthy, trending, think-pieced-to-paralysis.

When I lie on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and focus my vision softly on the undulating water, I imagine the life that swarms underneath the ocean’s surface. The fish, the sharks, even the tiny happy phytoplankton, all bumping and grinding amongst one another like puckish tipsy high-schoolers. I imagine this happens all over the ocean, a teeming sea of water and fish and water again.
Recently, concern about the long-term effects of head trauma related to contact sports has skyrocketed. At the center of the controversy are the rising number of former football players suffering from a neurodegenerative condition and the National Football League (NFL), which has largely denied any link between football and degenerative disease.
The recent outbreak of Zika virus in Central and South America correlates with a spike in birth defects, the first and foremost being microcephaly, a severe impairment of brain development. In Brazil, 1,113 cases of microcephaly have been confirmed, with 3,836 more suspected (as of April 12th, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry). The World Health Organization has declared this spike in microcephaly and other defects to be a global health emergency. The White House has asked Congress for $1.9 billion and has already transferred $510 million previously earmarked for an Ebola response.

Once every academic quarter, the UCSF Mission Bay campus takes on a new character. Normally unlocked buildings are barricaded and guarded by (mostly) men with guns.

Cells are more like corporations than they are like people. Uncountable tasks need be accomplished, and each protein is specialized to do one, at most a few, jobs. The job titles are unceremonious and garbled.

From Brave New World to Gattaca, the repercussions of gaining genetic control over people’s traits has constantly preoccupied science fiction. The recent development of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing technique is now making those concerns a preoccupation of science, no fiction necessary.