How to reverse climate change- The best argument I have seen so far.


Hey Geeks,

This past week in London has been crazy weather wise, we have experienced snow, rain and sunshine all in one day and within moments of each other. This has been the coldest March in over 70 years. Those that know me, know I am not a fan of the cold, I much prefer temperatures close to and above the 30 degrees Celsius mark, I am from what they term sub-saharan Africa after-all.

Naturally, I kept blaming it all on climate change and that got me to researching the topic yet again. The battle against climate change has always been a complicated one leading to heated discussions mainly because the world we live in is controlled by many factors such as politics, economics, health and population dynamics. As you can imagine, these factors do not go well together especially when they are pitched up against science and carbon cutting necessities such as reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. But let us not get too political here. That is not what this post is about, I want to introduce you to a new exciting theory I came across during my research. I love TED for things like this.


Whilst researching I came across Allan Savory’s TED talk titled- How to green the desert and reverse climate change. It blew me away. I learned so much and his theory actually makes more sense than anything else I have ever read on the topic. I don’t want to give too much away but the man made a mistake in his early career and spent the rest of his life figuring out a way to make up for it. The story and science is compelling to say the least and I urge you to press play and hear him out (he is a slow talker but he talks with passion and heart).

He said “We once thought the earth was flat. We were wrong. We are wrong again. I was wrong”. It takes a brave man to admit his mistake and dedicate his life to fixing that mistake.

This is one of my favourite songs as it is one of the few early songs that uses Sudan within the lyrics and I thought it was very fitting for this post.

Press play and enjoy the journey.

Have a great weekend.


Fire In The Blood



I have been waiting to see this documentary ever since I read about it over 6 months ago. It was finally release here on the 23rd of February to my excitement. Unfortunately, viewing it turned out to be much more difficult than I anticipated. Several frustrating searches revealed that it was only showing at a hand full of cinemas in London and even at these cinemas it was only showing at those “difficult to make” times.

I actually do not know why I expected it to be, maybe because it was given great reviews at Sundance and by most major critics and I some how lost track that it is actually reporting one of the worlds largest humanitarian disgraces; the failure of western pharmaceutical companies to provide affordable drugs to patients in the developing world. So of course it would not be “main-streamed”.

This campaigning documentary basically indicts the pharmaceutical giants that could have saved millions from AIDS in the developing world. This is what the the Guardian said about it:

“As presented, the corporate defence sounds horribly racist: that poorer Africans’ inability to read packaging or tell the time leaves them ill-suited to following any medication program. For some time, director Dylan Mohan Gray is limited to restating the same depressing story, using input from doctors and campaigners to punctuate footage of families grieving around child-sized coffins. But hope emerges in the form of the Indian physicist Yusuf Hamied, whose company Cipla undertook in the noughties to produce cheap, generic drugs in defiance of the Pfizer patent lawyers. As the indignation rises, the outcome of this battle cannot entirely be guessed, although one closing credit appears to address Big Pharma directly: “Help prevent a sequel.”

Please, if it is showing anywhere near you, go and watch this documentary. Conspiracy theory aside, it is important that you know that HIV/AIDs should not be around now (we know all we need to know about it as scientists/researchers) and medically we know how to put a stop to it. Why is it still around and increasing, polio isn’t and neither is small pox!?!?!?!?

Click on the trailer below.

I am going to see it tomorrow at Ritzy, Brixton, London. I hope it gives us all food for thought and further understanding to the type of world we live. Maybe in the future, we can figure out a way to support those who do not follow the “rules” and get rid of medical patents. I hope.


Genetically Modified Foods Can Make or Break Africa? The Debate.


Hey All,

I did promise more on the Science Theories section so here it is. Roughly, three weeks ago I was invited to debate the topic of this post on the Africa Today show for Press TV by Henry Bonsu. It was a great experience and brought back to light an subject that was very much in the public eye over 10 years ago but has since slipped under the radar.

The reason for this re-interest in the subject was Kenya’s recent decision to ban the import of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). I want to take a moment to explain the science behind GMO’s before getting into the debate.

The general feeling behind genetically modified foods or organisms in Europe and the UK is an instant flurry of negatives emotions. I know this, because I get to hear the general public express those emotions at a geneticists quite often. This is by far not the public’s fault, however, it is exactly what the media has lead you to feel and think. I am about to tell you why, but first the hardcore science explanation.

I simplify genetically modified organisms as super-speed Mendelian genetics. Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) spent many years cross pollinating different strains of plants, mainly peas, in-order to create the best/strongest/weakest/largest/smallest version of the plant/pea. He noticed that some species had certain traits that he deemed worthy and others he deemed unworthy, for want of another word. Mendel demonstrated that the inheritance of certain traits followed particular patterns, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance. One of the most significant discoveries in Science. Absolutely brilliant stuff for that time.

After completing his work with peas, Mendel turned to experimenting with honeybees to extend his work to animals. He produced a hybrid strain so vicious they were destroyed, but failed to generate a clear picture of their heredity because of the difficulties in controlling mating behaviours of queen bees. He also described novel plant species. What is important to note here is that this process is seen as “natural” by the media as it didn’t happen in a laboratory. However, it is not “natural” as it was forced by a series of events created by a person, in this case Mendel. For it to happen naturally it would mean Mendel had to live three life-times for us to gain the same results.

Now fast-forward to today’s modern day science, following the “genetic revolution” and this same process is no longer “natural” but “un-natural” because it happens much faster in a laboratory and we are more precise about which traits we deem as worthy. Instead of waiting for each new plant to produce a new hybrid, we can now insert the desired DNA or genetic information that produces the hybrid we want, more precisely and dare I say it, more safely. Why? because we have the technology and means to do it, we can read whole DNA sequences now. It is all very simple and very routine and has been in action for approximately many years now. Furthermore, no absolute health issues have been associated with GM foods which have been in our food chain for over 20 years now, whether you knew that or not is another matter.

Here is a simplified scientific diagram of how it works;


I ask you this, why have we not been asked to go back to a slower internet speeds becasue of the probable health risk which has been associated with technological radiation and its increased connectivity in the future? This also has not been absolutely proven. Maybe the media hasn’t told you to do so yet? I wonder why….could it be financial death for Western Industries?..who knows…but I am just is worth mulling over..


Now to the debate. Globally, GM research is led by six large multinational companies in industrial countries, the USA being the largest. These corporate and capitalist companies drive to sell the GMO’s they produced and patented to Africa and not Europe.

Although human development, food security & environmental health issues are often the focus of marketing strategies for companies it is unlikely that such altruistic concerns are driving their investment! The developing agricultural state of Africa is a potential market as a consumer especially as Europe is not receptive to GM products (much aided by the media).

In developing countries, Brazil, Argentina, China & India are leading in independently producing GM products.  In Africa the countries which have GM capacity include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt & Uganda but very minimally. Others are only recently starting to engage in research & field trials.

As a scientist, I do not have a problem with GM crops, food or research. In-fact I would go as far as supporting it. Economic world analysis predict a major food crisis in the near future. A food crisis that I believe Africa could avoid if it was to invest in it’s own GMO research and development.

The issue is the private sector dominance has meant the focus is on developed country concerns e.g. improved crop quality instead of drought tolerance or yield enhancement, saving labour costs associated to herbicides and insecticides. Insect resistant crops are particularly important for Africa due to infestation losses leading to approximately 15% of losses. In some cases, such as with the African cassava mosaic virus total loss of harvests has been reported. Genetically modified cassava could save African farmers large economic losses. So far the only way to stop it is intensive use of insecticides, which is expensive & also known to lead to biosafety issues later down the line such as those reported by the use of DDT (currently banned insecticide which was commonly used in the 90’s world-wide).

So what is the major problem here and why has Kenya taken such a strong stance? It is not without reason especially when you take a closer look at the industry and the politics or policies that control it.

Much like the pharmaceutical and music industries, the agricultural industry is also under the control of Intellectual Property (IP) patents and policies which are being monopolised by corporate capitalist companies mainly from the US and “west”.


Importantly, developing country considerations for balancing incentives to producers are very different from the US context. Multinationals based in the US and elsewhere who are investing large sums in biotechnology and plant breeding would need large markets for their products and strong patent protection on genes as well as on tools and varieties to protect their investments.
In other words,  strong IP recognising plants and gene patents favours corporate investment, and arguably monopolistic tendencies while discouraging small enterprises and diversity of supply which is needed in Africa. Moreover, strong IP leads to higher prices for longer periods of time. China would appear to have no IP protection for its GM and the question being asked is if weak intellectual property protection becomes a constraint to innovation?  This has now become a major challenge that policy makers face in China.
So it seems Africa is stuck between a rock and a hard-place. Do we say no and risk being the reason for Africa’s food crisis in the future? or do we fall prey to the corporate companies using our land for their own prospects. I always try to be optimistic and in my optimistic and perfect world a mid-way solution is possible. Developing countries in Africa have not developed research facilities and as such are years behind in-terms of biotechnology and innovation strategies. We need to catch up, invest and make it one of the most pressing policies for Africa’s development as a continent. Africa should rightly be the leading agricultural super-power of the world, we have been blessed with the most suitable land.
Currently, developing countries can license these transgenic biotechnologies and in some cases collaborate successfully with the west, for example Burkina Faso and the cotton industry. Another example to support my optimistic world exemplifies why research cooperation between developing countries and institutions or companies based in the developed world has been important in promoting transgenic research in Africa. 
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (SFIT) in Zurich plans to collaborate with researchers in Nigeria, the UK and the USA on the African cassava mosaic virus (Sawahel 2005). This virus is transmitted to cassava by white flies when they feed on the plant. In parts of Eastern and Central Africa, epidemics of the disease can lead to total loss of harvests. Researchers at SFIT have used genes from a virus that periodically devastates cassava crops to create cassava plants that can resist the virus. Cassava is an important food crop in many parts of Africa and is strongly affected by genetic erosion, pest infestation and plant disease (Aerni,2005). Genetically modified cassava could save African farmers large economic losses. So far, the only way to curb the virus is by intensive use of insecticide to kill white flies. But this can be prohibitively expensive for subsistence farmers and can threaten their health and that of surrounding plants and animals (Sawahel 2005). This is when you have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of scientific innovations.
But the question still begs, can revenues from patent licenses finance research and development for small markets of developing country research? As we know from the pharmaceutical sector, strong patents can be an incentive to develop high price products for high income consumers, but can do little to encourage investment in high need products for low income consumers (as good example of this are retroviral drugs for the HIV/Aids epidemic). In the pharmaceuticals sector, this has led to large investments in diseases of the wealthy and neglect of diseases of the poor – or ‘orphan diseases’. Naylor et al (2004) have argued that a similar process could be at work with private investments in agriculture. Here is where the danger lies in my opinion.
I would like to conclude by saying no technology or human activity is completely risk free, people accept new technologies or sciences because they can see the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. Public mistrust of governments & private sectors is validated in recent times. Policy makers need to be aware of this and better scientific information needs to be given to farmers and people in general. A key challenge in Africa is dealing with the information Gap. Kenya has 17 biotechnology research facilities and currently only one of them is investing in transgenic technology research for agriculture. I hope that they increase the research in this area and develop solutions for Africa by Africa.
The debate here is not black and white and I have so much more to say, although I could go on for much longer dissecting this issue, I would like to leave you with two very interesting chapters to read if you are interested. Click on this link and this link to really get stuck in.
Let me know what you think? Yay or Nay? Thank you for reading and I look forwards to your opinions and comments on this important topic.
Until next time, stay blessed.

Sandy Vs Climate Change

New-York City, 2012. Photo by my favourite photographer Yosra El-essawy

Hey Geeks,

Recently, a storm by the name of Sandy wreaked havoc with devastating winds, record flooding, heavy snowfall and mass blackouts. Sandy wiped out homes along the New Jersey shore, submerged parts of New York City, and dumped snow as far south as the Carolinas. At least 50 people were reported killed in the United States, on top of 69 in the Caribbean (Jamaica and Haiti worst affected), while millions of people were left without power (numbers are still rising day by day). My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.

Sandy, New-York, 2012.

I wrote this post a week ago but decided to wait before posting in-order to allow us all more time to come to terms with the impact off this event. I have been astonished at the lack of climate change debate following this hurricane. I guess I always thought “they will get it when the effects of climate change and/or global warming hit a major western city”. I quote myself here. What’s more concerning is that fact that some scientists say that the key to Sandy’s impact may be an extremely rare clash of weather systems, rather than the warmer temperatures that scientists have identified in other hurricanes and storms.

“It’s a hybrid storm, which combines some features of tropical hurricanes with some features of winter storms, that operate on quite different mechanisms,” said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of Atmospheric Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although Emanuel said that there is a clear link between climate change and general trends toward more intense tropical hurricanes, in the case of Sandy more long-term study is required to determine whether climate change played a major role. I mean, MORE long-term study? how much longer do we need to study this for? are we waiting on three more Sandy’s or 10? when does it become a fact that is taken just as seriously as “the war on terror”?

Sandy, Haiti, 2012.

Most scientists agree that climate change “likely” aggravated the “unique” circumstances that produced Sandy. They go so far as to “include” global warming  as “contributing” by causing ocean temperatures and sea levels to rise.

“Sea level rise makes storm surges worse and will continue to do so in the future,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam, Germany. He is also quoted saying that a record thaw of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean in September also might have helped build up high pressure in the North Atlantic that drove Sandy westward.

“I would be very cautious,” he said. “But there is reason to suspect that there could be a connection between the record sea ice loss this summer and the path of this storm.”

The question is why does he have to be cautious? Records show world sea levels have risen by 20 centimetres (8 inches) in the past 100 years, a trend blamed on melting ice and expanding water in the oceans caused by rising temperatures.

Importantly, scientists also note that world temperatures in September this year parallel those in 2005, the year hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, as the warmest in modern records, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Is this not evidence enough off the impacts of global warming?

Sandy, Jamaica, 2012.

The climate change debate has been going on long enough. Yes, we know that the climate was more benign 15 million years ago than it is now. And, yes, very little ice was at the poles with higher sea levels. It was like this 15 million years ago due to the high atmospheric C02 levels at approximately 400 parts per million (ppm) and warmer temperatures. It was those conditions that allowed plants to grow, reducing CO2 levels to 280ppm to just before the industrial revolution and allowed us humans to spread all over the earth. However, post the industrial revolution, seven billion humans burning fossil fuels has increased the C02 levels to 380ppm today. If we don’t take responsibility for this, it is predicted to increase to 600ppm or more in the next century. Ultimately creating atmospheric conditions not seen for more than 50 million years.

Take a moment and really sit with the information above. Hopefully, common sense will tell you that this kind of rapid change to our climate would all but destroy our homes, food production capabilities, populations dynamics and ultimately lead to the collapse of civilisation as we know it. It’s either we re-adapt to storms/hurricanes/drought/famine or begin to think about taking action to drastically reduce C02 levels and/or adapt our way of living to these new weather conditions. Seriously.

This is already happening.

FACT– Warmer temperatures mean that the atmosphere can hold more moisture, bringing more rain in many areas. A U.N. report this year predicted that a higher proportion of the world’s rain would fall in downpours during the 21st century, making floods more likely.

FACT– The latest research suggests that a warming climate will lead to more extreme weather events such as flooding rains and drought. Michael Rawlins,Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts ,Amherst.

FACT– Recent research indicates that greenhouse gases have raised the chances of some events, such as the Texas heatwave of 2011 or a European heatwave in 2003 that killed approximately 70,000 people.

FACT– If all the words above don’t convince you, have a look at the video below shot by Malin Fezehai called Vanishing Nation about the Island nations in the South Pacific.

Vanishing Nation from Malin Fezehai on Vimeo.

As individuals we CAN do something, we can make sure we vote for the right political parties, the ones that have a clear agenda for reducing C02 levels and/or tackling climate change. For example, this article in the Guardian journals an interesting perspective. We can work at reducing our own carbon footprint bit by bit by switching to more energy efficient systems. Every little bit counts, especially those of us in countries that are producing the most C02 as the truth of the matter is It is more our responsibility.

I have purposely not inserted any links within this post to any specific research. There are thousands of articles on-line detailing research both for and against the climate change theory. This is my personal opinion. Let me know what you think? Do you agree or disagree, it always makes for an interesting debate.
Click play whilst you think it over, please think it over.

Thank you for reading and please the knowledge.


Fasting makes you younger

Hello Geeks,

As it is Ramadan again, I thought it would be a good idea to re-post this blog post to help keep us fasting people motivated lol. It is the third day in and this year I can honestly say I am struggling. Summer Ramadan’s are not the one, the day is so long and come 9.20pm I am not the most pleasant person to be around but at least I know I will look younger. Please re-blog, re-tweet and like the post.

Ramadan Kareem everyone, Love, Light and blessings to all.


Hey All,

Hope you have all been well. Some of you may know that it is the holy month of Ramadan in the Islamic calender. This special month means that from sunrise to sunset, people of the Muslim faith abstain from eating and drinking (yes, not even water!!!). Ramadan is my favorite month, but I have to admit, this year it has been tough as the days are super long and I am definitely feeling it.

A friend of mine sent me this link to the third horizon episode called Eat, Fast and Live Longer presented by Michael Mosley.  I wanted to write a post on the scientific health benefits of fasting towards the beginning of the month but it is so much and can get very complicated. This episode is the perfect introduction into the world of health metabolics and you can see Mr Mosley take him-self through all the different types of fasts and the huge mental and physical health benefits he personally gained from actually doing the fasts. Clink on this link and watch it on bbc iplayer before it’s gone.

In-case you do not have the time to watch the whole episode. I am going to do my best to summarise the power of fasting here.

Mosley goes through different phases of food restrictions before delving into fasting. Calorie restriction, eating well but not much, is one of the few things that has been shown to extend life expectancy, at least in animals. We’ve known since the 1930s that mice put on a low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet live far longer. This is also true in monkeys, the mammal of choice for testing a theory before human trials.

The world record for extending life expectancy in a mammal is held by a new type of mouse which can expect to live an extra 40%, equivalent to a human living to 120 or even longer. 120 years of life, i’m not sure I want to live to 120 but some of you may 🙂

Why I hear you ask does this mouse have such a healthy and long life? the answer is it has been genetically engineered so its body produces very low levels of a growth hormone called IGF-1, high levels of which seem to lead to accelerated ageing and age-related diseases, while low levels are protective. Tah Dah!

A similar, but natural, genetic mutation has been found in humans with Laron syndrome, a rare condition that affects fewer than 350 people worldwide. The very low levels of IGF-1 their bodies produce means they are short, but this also seems to protect them against heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes, all age-related diseases.

The IGF-1 hormone (insulin-like growth factor) is one of the drivers which keep our bodies in go-go mode, with cells driven to reproduce. This is fine when you are growing, but not so good later in life, it makes us get old :-/.

How does all this relate to fasting? I’m getting there, evidence suggests that IGF-1 levels can be lowered by what you eat. The reason seems to be that when our bodies no longer have access to food they switch from “growth mode” to “repair mode”. As levels of the IGF-1 hormone drop, a number of repair genes appear to get switched on according to ongoing research by Professor Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.

Mosley had a go fasting for 3 days and saw his levels of IGF-1 drop by over half, dramatically reducing his chances of age associated diseases and diabetes, to 1 in a billion! His face on hearing this information is priceless. Finding three continuous days of fasting difficult he researches fasting diets further and goes for the Alternate Day fasting (ADF). This diet involving eating what you want one day, then a very restricted diet (fewer than 600 calories) the next, and most surprisingly, it does not seem to matter that much what you eat on non-fast days says Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago who carried a range of clinical trials.

Mosley decided, he couldn’t manage ADF, it was just too impractical. Fair enough, he was being honest with himself. Instead he did an easier version, the so-called 5:2 diet. As the name implies you eat normally 5 days a week, then two days a week you eat 500 calories if you are a woman, or 600 calories, if you are a man. It worked for him but it is important to note that there are no firm rules because so far there have been few proper human trials.

The final conclusion, fasting can be good for you both physically, mentally and spiritually. Why not try it? If you want to read some of the hard-core science click on this link.

Hope you enjoyed the read, now I’m going to enjoy my fasting experience just that little bit more knowing that it’s giving my aging processes a run for it’s money. I’m working on being forever young again like Ghost. Click on the video below for Napolean Dynamites reinterpretation of Forever Young.

Until next time, happy fasting.


Fortune Babies

Hello Geeks,

It has been a minute since I last posted, please accept my apologies and thank you for sending messages asking for more. Your support is much appreciated. 🙂

Interestingly enough, this is the second time I have had to put things on hold due to a number of unforeseen circumstances and again the first thing I see being blasted all over standard newspapers and science blogs is a genetics story. Yaaaay. But only because it is so much easier for me to talk about my own specialty than anything else. I’m not biased at all LOL.

At the beginning of this month, Kitzman, J. O. et al. (2012) published work in the journal Science Translational Medicine that heralds a future in which a child’s genetic blueprint can be safely scanned for traits and defects long before birth by reconstructing the genome of a fetus using a blood sample from its mother and a saliva sample from its father. Before we all start screaming designer babies horrors, read the science and take a moment to take it all in. Then make your judgement.

Here comes the hardcore science bit:

I know some of you are thinking we know this is being done already right? Actually, originally, prenatal testing was conducted only to detect life-threatening disorders. Then, conditions such as Down’s Syndrome were added.  Recently, British parents were given the go-ahead to test for cancer genes such as BRCA (this is important to note, as the cancer does not present itself until much later on in life). Furthermore, most prenatal diagnosis is done from a sample of either placental tissue or amniotic fluid, both of which must be obtained using invasive methods that can trigger miscarriage. Therefore, the fact that this much information can be obtained from a simple blood test and saliva is major in more ways than one.

So how is this possible? When a woman is pregnant, her blood contains fragments of DNA both from her genome and from that of her unborn child. Generally, around 13% of the DNA in her blood plasma — called ‘cell-free’ DNA — comes from the fetus. One of the biggest challenges facing scientist is telling the difference between fetal and maternal DNA (which is why invasive methods are required).

Step one: Jay Shendure, a geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and his colleagues isolated 5 nanograms of cell-free DNA from a maternal blood sample taken at 18.5 weeks of gestation. They performed ‘deep sequencing’ on the DNA, which involved sampling fragments approximately 78 times. The researchers then went on to construct the mother’s genome by sequencing the DNA in her blood cells computationally using ratios to predict haplotypes and variants. Where the ratios diverged from what was known to be maternal (from a previous sample, before pregnancy), the reading was thought to be from the fetus genetic material. That sounds more complicated than it is.

Step two:  Working out the fathers or paternal contribution. Here the researchers simply sequenced the father’s genome using DNA from his saliva (blood could also have been used but in this case was not available). Variants of his that didn’t turn up in the maternal blood were presumed not to have been inherited by the fetus; those that did were presumed to come from the fetus.

The third and most important step was to test the accuracy of the “constructed” genome. The researchers sequenced the child’s genome from cells collected from its cord blood after birth. Amazingly, they found out that they were able to predict inherited mutations using the parental samples reporting 98% accuracy. Furthermore,  understanding that fetal screening needs to be done sooner to give parents time to respond, they then tested the technique on a second family with a 8.2 week-old fetus and obtained 95% accuracy (that’s half the amount of time as previous run). Job done.

As you can imagine the ethical bunnies are already jumping, and not without reason. Where do you draw the line when it comes to terminating a fetus due to a “known” disorder. Some scientist wonder how long it will be before traits such as albinism are considered defects that need to be screened out. So what does all this mean for the average person walking the streets?

Dennis Lo, a geneticist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who was the first to discover fetal DNA in maternal blood, argues that a better approach would be to target specific parts of the genome known to be involved in important genetic diseases. Sequencing everything, he says, will create serious ethical dilemmas. A important and valid point.

Hope you enjoyed the read and let me know what you think. Would you screen your unborn babies for genetic diseases in-order to terminate or to give yourself the opportunity to prepare yourself for the pressure having conceived a baby which needs special care? Financial strains? etc In the words of Dela Soul, The stakes are high.

Until next time. Have a great weekend.


Man Made DNA- New frontiers in Science and Medicine or Dangerous Grounds?

Hey Geeks,

Hope you are all well. Due to popular demand from my out-of-the-closet geeks, I promised a while back that I would add a new category which would deal with the major scientific theories and here it is.

Now, because I am a genetic and molecular biology specialist by training, I think you will all forgive me if I indulge in my area of expertise to begin with :-). And I hope you will understand why.

Yesterday, the world was introduced to one of the biggest new developments in the world of genetics since the Human Genome Project.  Scientific researchers at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, have developed chemical procedures that turn DNA and RNA, the molecular blueprints for all known life, into six alternative genetic polymers called XNAs.

I want you to take a moment and really take this in. It basically means that scientists have created artificial genetic material that can store information and evolve over generations in a similar way to DNA. WOAH. This is BIG. Not only is this expected to open up new doors for researching medicines and systems in biotechnology to fight major diseases such as cancer and hereditary disfunctions, but it provides a real tool that could enable scientists to make new novel forms of life in the lab.  All the science fiction lovers must be silently whispering “I told you so”.

Here comes the Hard-Core Science. The process swaps the deoxyribose and ribose (the “d” and “r” in DNA and RNA) for other molecules. It was found the XNAs could form a double helix with DNA and were more stable than natural genetic material. More importantly, the XNAs are shown to be able to stick to a protein, an ability that might mean the polymers (protein “strings”) could be deployed as drugs working like antibodies (the things that fight disease in our bodies).

Further, Vitor Pinheiro, a co-author on the paper, said the research could help scientists work out how DNA and RNA became so crucial in the evolution of life, and perhaps even help in the search for extraterrestrial organisms. “If a genetic system doesn’t have to be based on DNA and RNA, what then do you define as life? How do you look for life?” he is quoted as saying.

This sounds crazy right? but other scientists, including Craig Venters team, who are the “oracles” of the genetics world are hoping to make synthetic organisms from scratch! However, the majority of the work so far has used conventional DNA. Which leads me to the ethical and religious arguments that I am sure will follow this paper. As a spiritual/religious person I have had the creation discussion many times before and some believe that as a Muslim I should not be messing with DNA etc etc. I disagree. It is not that simple. However, this far outweighs just religion, as a human, how far do you think we should go in-order to further science, medicine and technology? Click on this link to read the full abstract and get the article from the journal Science.

The Avengers movie is out, it all seems a bit more likely now….I will leave you to ponder

Let me know what you think? how does this discovery make you feel? Please share, re-post, re-blog, tweet this post if you enjoyed reading it.

Until next time