Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Life 2.0?

So, the hype of Web 2.0 has spilled over into biology, and the synthetic biology (now using the even sexier acronym SynBio) crowd is positioning itself as Life 2.0, referring to non-engineered life as "Life 1.0." In a recent Newsweek article, Tom Knight of MIT's Artificial Intelligence lab goes so far as to say "The genetic code is 3.6 billion years old. It's time for a rewrite."

Unfortunately, the criticism of SynBio is represented as religious and moralistic in nature, making it a "man playing God" argument. Environmental reactions, via Greenpeace, are merely represented as a kind of secular, almost pagan, compliment to the Judeo-Christian resistance to biotechnology, and the SynBio proponents portrayed as merely crass materialists. This is why the notion of "bioethics," as it is practiced in the US at least, is absurd.

For some critical reflections on bioethics, see these texts (all links to PDF files):

Intellectual Capital and Voting Booth Bioethics: A Contemporary Historical Critique

Critical Bioethics

Bioethics: a Tentative Balance

Of course there are lots more texts to consider, but these are free and accessible online.

posted by ryan griffis  # 8:33 AM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, May 27, 2007

DNA in the UK

The Guardian has a recent piece on a push by some for the state to begin recording everyone's genetic profile that comes into contact with the law. The article includes this gem of reasoning:
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, a former president of the Police Superintendents' Association, said the case for including more people on the database was overwhelming. 'If I had my way, the DNA we now take from newborn babies to check for genetic disorders would be added to the national database in the national interest,' Mackenzie writes.
Of course the "national database" would be in the "national interests." Why would anyone question that?

posted by ryan griffis  # 2:28 PM 0 comments links to this post

We Program Cells Like Robots

Biotech (er, synthetic biology) quote of the week, by UC, San Francisco biologist Christopher Voigt on a Forbes profile. There's a Metropolis just waiting to be made for the bio/nanotech era.

posted by ryan griffis  # 2:25 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, May 24, 2007


So, the news is that Google just invested $3.9 million in a biotech start-up named 23andMe, not coincidentally founded by one of Google's co-founder's spouses. Also not coincidentally, Arthur Levinson, CEO of Genentech (another California-based company and one of the world's leading biotech firms) is on Google's board. I don't have much more news on the Google-biotech connection, but will look more into that for future posts.
Related to Google, Kate Rich wrote a quite interesting piece for Mute about Google's venture into operating "off grid" and in relatively remote locations.

posted by ryan griffis  # 6:08 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, May 18, 2007

Putting Nanotech on the Map

The Nanotech Project (a project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts) has a map of nanotech research centers and corporations in the US. I'm surprised that there isn't a global map like this for biotech... or is there?

posted by ryan griffis  # 10:25 AM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, May 03, 2007

European Patent Office Revokes Monsanto Soybean Patent

Following up on my April 30 post on the European ruling on Monsanto's patent, the decision has come back against the company's species-wide patent, according to the ETC Group.
From a press release the group sent out today:
According to Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of EcoNexus, "Monsanto's patent couldn't even survive on its scientific merits. It was a thoroughly bad patent - from both a technical and moral perspective."

Multinational firm Syngenta also made oral arguments today opposing the patent. While their technical expertise may have contributed to the patent's ultimate downfall, their opposition is viewed by civil society as cynical. In January 2005, ETC Group reported on three Syngenta patent applications that also make breathtakingly broad claims - multi-genome patents with claims on gene sequences that extend to 40 plant species. Despite assurances from Syngenta that the company would let the patents lapse, all three applications appear to be active still at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). [See ETC Group Communique, "Syngenta - The Genome Giant?" January/February 2005]

This isn't ETC Group's first successful battle against species-wide patents. Most notably, another Agracetus patent - this one granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office in 1992 and claiming all genetically engineered cotton varieties - was eventually revoked in India and the US in 1994.

Other overly broad, unjust patents have yet to be revoked, however. The formal challenge to the notorious "Enola Bean" patent, US Patent No. 5,894,079, granted on a yellow bean genetically identical to a pre-existing Mexican bean variety, has entered its seventh year. [See ETC Group Genotype, "Whatever Happened to the Enola Bean Patent Challenge?" 21 December 2005]

posted by ryan griffis  # 3:06 PM 0 comments links to this post


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