Weekend Coffee: CRISPR

Double Helix

For decades, we've understood the structure and function of DNA. But this immensely powerful knowledge has led to surprisingly few practical breakthroughs. Our ability to alter the genomes of living things has been painfully limited, progress frustratingly slow and elusive. However, that all may be about to change, thanks to a new technology taken from nature: a genetic system called CRISPR.CRISPR was an initially-mysterious string of repeating DNA sequences, discovered in bacteria decades … [Read more...]

Debunking the Bible’s Gender Binary

Christian fundamentalists who oppose same-sex marriage, or who attack the identities of transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner, tend to cite one biblical verse more than any other:"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."—Genesis 1:27 (KJV)Christians who cite this passage, like San Francisco archbishop Salvatore Cordileone or the Duggars' pastor Ronnie Floyd, use it to support their belief in separate and … [Read more...]

#BeyondMarieCurie: Women in STEM & Medicine

In a bid to give women scientists other than Marie Curie the recognition they're too often denied, science editor Melissa Vaught asked for contributions to a Twitter hashtag, #BeyondMarieCurie, listing women with noteworthy achievements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Here's the first version of the list:[View the story "#BeyondMarieCurie: Women in STEM & Medicine" on Storify]I suggested a few other names that weren't already there:Some others: Annie Jump Cannon, … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: November 2


• After serving most of a ten-year prison sentence for tax evasion, Kent Hovind was due to be released next year... but now the government is pressing new charges, saying that he filed fraudulent liens in an attempt to stop them from seizing his property as part of the punishment for his original conviction.• Virgin Galactic's experimental rocket plane SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight in the Mojave Desert, killing one of its two pilots. It's a tragic setback and a … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: September 6


• This week, Bob McDonnell, a.k.a Virginia's former "Governor Ultrasound", was convicted by a jury on multiple counts of corruption. The schadenfreude-y part is that McDonnell ran for office as a religious-right, pro-marriage, Christian-family-values candidate, whereas his defense at trial basically consisted of arguing that his own marriage was a shambles and that everything he said on the campaign trail was a lie.• In weird and cool biology news: two unclassifiable animal species … [Read more...]

Repost: The Age of Wonder


[Author's Note: I'm reposting some old favorites while I'm away on vacation this week. This post was originally from November 2008.]If you search the internet, it's not hard to find New Agers and others who think that the dawning of the age of reason was a mistake. They envision a more "holistic" approach, one that properly pays heed to the mystery and complexity of existence, and castigate science for being cold, unfeeling, heartless in its probing, reductionist scrutiny of the natural … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 2

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 2, "Some of the Things That Molecules Do"If I had to pick one word to describe this episode, it'd be "overstuffed". Granted, the series has a huge amount of territory to cover; and unlike the original Cosmos, which aired on PBS, this one is subject to the ever-growing commercial demands of Fox, giving it just 44 minutes of television in an hourlong slot. Even so, it seemed to be straining at the seams to fit in every story it wanted to tell.The … [Read more...]

On the Morality of: De-Extinction


I was fascinated by a lengthy article last week on "de-extinction", the emerging science of cloning extinct species back to life. While we almost certainly won't be recreating dinosaurs Jurassic Park style, there are many vanished animals for which we have well-preserved specimens from which we could extract genetic material, from passenger pigeons to woolly mammoths, dodos to thylacines (or even the Australian gastric brooding frog, a bizarre species that gestates its young in its stomach). … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: November 9


• Following the resignation of the previous team, CFI has announced the new hosts of their podcast Point of Inquiry, one of whom is my friend Lindsay Beyerstein. Congratulations!• This week's entry in the WTF Department: Richard Cohen, an awful columnist for the Washington Post, saw the movie 12 Years a Slave and was shocked to learn how bad slavery was. I wish I were kidding about that.• Three cheers for science! A new antiviral therapy can cure hepatitis C without a … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: The Promise of In Vitro Meat


Earlier this month, the first ever lab-grown hamburger was eaten at a taste test in London. The tasters' reports were guardedly positive:Upon tasting the burger, Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: "I was expecting the texture to be more soft... there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, but it's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper."This is meat to me. It's not falling apart."Food writer Mr Schonwald said: "The mouthfeel is like … [Read more...]