Gattaca Venit

The title means “Gattaca Arrived.” In this scene of the 1997 SyFi film Gattaca, Vincent Freeman’s parents are planning a second child, as their first (Vincent) was unfortunately conceived “naturally” and “passionately.” The geneticist-consultant shows them four candidate embryos:

Geneticist: You have specified hazel eyes, dark hair and fair skin. I’ve taken the liberty of eradicating any potentially prejudicial conditions. Premature baldness, myopia… alcoholism and addictive susceptibility… propensity for violence, obesity, etc.

Marie Freeman: We didn’t want… Diseases, yes, but– [looks at Antonio]

Antonio Freeman: We were just wondering if it’s good to leave a few things to chance?

Geneticist: We want to give your child the best possible start. Believe me, we have enough imperfection built-in already. Your child doesn’t need any more additional burdens. Keep in mind, this child is still you. Simply the best of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result.

Less than two decades after the film’s release it is no longer cinematic fiction. Editing our human DNA safely and wisely is here and will soon be available to the public. What this means is beyond profound and will change life as we know it forever! Please watch this 16-min TED video presentation from one of the co-founders of the CRISPR-CAS9 gene-editor, Dr. Jennifer Doudna.

Some of the questions Dr. Doudna raises and those presented to her at the end of her presentation were very good, very paramount questions for her, the scientific-medical community, and people in general, legislatures in particular, to seriously consider. This has created two nascent scientific-philosophical fields:  bioethics and genethics.

The therapeutic uses for this medical technology are unquestionable when it comes to relief of human suffering and early mortality from diseases. One of its uses I personally find fascinating and optimistic about is that of combating addiction, heretical or acquired. The U.S.’s addiction-crisis of the brain’s reward-dopamine abuse is absolutely a treatable illness and disorder! This neurogenetic editing-rehab would have a major impact on our species and societies. For a poignant assessment of this current mental health epidemic and its solutions, click here. At the other end of the addiction spectrum there is one form of treatment which has proven a failure:  abstinence. In fact, abstinence has shown for the last 70+ years to exacerbate recovery for almost all addicts.

But rewiring and editing neurological and genetic strands does raise some sub-questions. For example, when is giving charity or open-love or generosity an addiction (clinical co-dependency), and when is it healthy and not an addiction? For hundreds and thousands of years of human history, nowhere, no one group, organization, belief-system, or society has ever had a workable and successful answer — until modern medicine and science.

Then there are some non-therapeutic questions too. For example, here are some I picked out from the National Human Genome Research Institute’s website posted August 2017:

Regarding Properly Informed Consent

  • How can an informed choice/decision be offered to an unborn embryo of the edit(s) or to its descendants?
  • What exactly should define Properly Informed Consent?

Regarding Justice and Equity

  • How can the impoverished and disadvantaged (the world’s 80% – 90% population) people be assured that genome editing is available for all, not just the wealthy causing disparities throughout healthcare?
  • How will our species avoid germline editing that creates classes of individuals defined by the quality of their (purchased?) engineered genomes?

However these issues and questions play out, like it or not, gene-editing is here to stay. Whether the U.S. and other democratic nations are at the forefront of this Venit/Arrived technology, other questionable groups, societies, and nations, depending on their “resources,” will get a hold of it eventually, or do everything within their power to stop it or corrupt it. Which brings me to another profound question.

Don’t we have a moral, humane imperative and responsibility to ease and/or stop all suffering?

For me, the answer is Of course we do! It’s a no-brainer. But I am also very happy to report that this positive course of action implies another wonderful reality!

Since a supposed “God” fucked all this up in the first place — or allowed Satan to do so, whichever — in that light we can start doing the work that the mentally retarded, lazy, “God” with no foresight whatsoever has refused to do for well over 300,000 to 500,000 years! Let’s at least keep moving forward helping our reality in practical beneficial ways!

If you’d like to know more remarkable news about gene-editing, watch this 12-min TED video “Gene-editing Can Now Change An Entire Species.”

The positive benefits of utilizing gene-drives and DNA-repairing editors are endless and must be increasingly understood and discussed. At minimum, THAT is indeed what we are responsible for doing. Staying with status quo or what I’ve often described to the religious as stagnate-in-antiquation is a sure-fire way to accelerate extinction.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Reading Once Unreadable Ancient Scrolls

This is groundbreaking news for science and most of all for future rewriting, reexamining, and changing historical “traditions” into historical facts and more compelling plausibilities. What is remarkably ironic is that this technology has been introduced by an American computer scientist named Brent Seales, who is also an evangelical Christian. I wonder if he fully realizes what he has ushered in?

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In the 1730’s Italian well-diggers hit and stumbled across an ancient Roman villa. Over the next three decades as commissioned by the King of France, two engineers headed up the excavations of the villa and its contents. They eventually uncovered over 1,800 papyri scrolls from 1st century CE Roman life prior to the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius just a few kilometers away. Like all the inhabitants of Herculaneum, items such as papyri scrolls were either vaporized or incinerated under the 300+ degree Celsius (≅ 600 Fahrenheit) heat blast. These scrolls managed to be only charred due to various storing techniques that the Villa’s owner (probably the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus) maintained for his large library. Nevertheless, for the next 250-years after their discovery scientists assumed their words would be impossible to ever read. They had attempted to carefully unravel some, but only turned them into fragments and dust; certainly more undecipherable.

Vesuvius-79 CE eruption

Fast forward to the computer age…

Later, while earning his doctorate, at the University of Wisconsin, [Seales] became fascinated with “computer vision,” and began writing algorithms to convert two-dimensional photographs into 3-D models—a technique that later enabled vehicles such as Mars rovers, for example, to navigate terrain on their own. Seales went to work at the University of Kentucky in 1991, and when a colleague took him along to the British Library to photograph fragile manuscripts, Seales, captivated by the idea of seeing the unseeable, found the challenge thrilling.

From there Seales continued improving upon the improvements of computed tomography (CT).

He began to experiment with a medical-grade computed tomography (or CT) scanner, which uses X-rays to create a three-dimensional image of an object’s internal structure. First, he tried imaging the paint on a modern rolled-up canvas. Then he scanned his first authentic object—a 15th-century bookbinding thought to contain a fragment of Ecclesiastes hidden inside. It worked.

…to read the full Smithsonian article click here

Fast forward thirteen more years. Once pulling out or highlighting the metal-laden letters within the scrolls, how does one go about unwrapping them on their proper page in correct order? Seales admitted that at the time that process was just simply beyond their algorithms.

What makes virtual unwrapping such a complex challenge is that, even if you imaged the inside of a rolled-up scroll written in ink that glowed brightly in scans, you would still only see a dizzying mess of tightly packed letters floating in space, like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle—but without a final picture to use as a guide. To decipher that jumble of letters, Seales’ key innovation was to develop software to locate and model the surface layer within a wound-up scroll, which analyzes each point in as many as 12,000 cross-sections. Then he looks for density changes that correspond to the ink, and applies filters or other techniques to increase the contrast of the letters as much as possible. The final step is to figuratively “unroll” the image for reading.

multi-spectral imagingNow today with phase-contrast tomography in combination with X-ray phase-contrast tomography (for carbons), then mapping all the images the scrolls are virtually unfurled to read the full texts:

After Seales returned to Kentucky, he and his colleagues spent months mapping all of the available 2-D images onto the 3-D template produced by the Artec Space Spider. This past March, they returned to Oxford to present the results on a big screen to a packed conference room. At such a high-resolution, the charred papyrus resembled a dark-brown mountain range as seen from above, with lines of text snaking over the ridges and peaks. There was a gasp from the audience as Seales’ student Hannah Hatch rotated the image, then zoomed into creases and peeked over folds, flipping seamlessly between high-resolution photographs, infrared images and even the disegni drawings—all matched up to the 3-D template.

Now that this proven scientific method, via subatomic physics to be exact, for reading once unreadable brittle ancient scrolls has been established, it has unsurprisingly caused a frenzy in scholarly paleographical circles.

Successfully reading Herculaneum scrolls could trigger a new “renaissance of classical antiquity,” says Gregory Heyworth, a medievalist at the University of Rochester in New York. He points out that virtual unwrapping could be applied to countless other texts. In Western Europe alone, he estimates, there are tens of thousands of manuscripts dating from before A.D. 1500—from carbonized scrolls to book covers made from older, glued-together pages—that could benefit from such imaging.

“We’d change the canon,” Heyworth says. “I think the next generation is going to have a very different picture of antiquity.”

A very different picture of antiquity“? Hah! True, but an interesting way of putting it. I’d say not necessarily different, but more importantly accurate rather than on biased pseudo-traditions. This is why science works better for the benefit of humanity. It need not be feared, unless there is something(s) shameful to hide.

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Live Well — Live Scientifically — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Every 405,000 Years

Geo-core samplesFor decades astronomers have theorized that like our Moon impacts our tides, over tens of thousands of years our closest and largest planets in our solar system (Venus and Jupiter) have influenced Earth’s climate. Since Serbian astrophysicist Milutin Milanković hypothesized his Earth orbital-cycles of variations in the 1920’s affected Earth’s climates, there simply hasn’t been any sufficient physical proof for his cycles theory. Until last month.

With the further advanced technology and methodologies used on geological formations and strata (magnetostratigraphy) in correlation with the Newark–Hartford APTS (Astrochronostratigraphic Polarity Timescale) published May 7, 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, now:

…provide[s] empirical confirmation that the unimodal 405-kiloyear orbital eccentricity cycle reliably paces Earth’s climate back to at least 215 million years ago, well back in the Late Triassic Period.

This conclusion was based on the geological research of three different cores:  two from two different sites of ancient lake beds in New Jersey and New York, and one rock core 1,500-feet long from the Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park.

The geologists noticed that lake sediment cores would disclose a consistent pattern of ancient lakes drying up then refilling over the course of hundreds of thousands of years forming different geological strata. This suggested cyclical changes in climate. The difficulty was that at the time they lacked the extensive methods to accurately date those climatic shifts. Fortunately, the Arizona Petrified Forest core, contained layers of ash from volcanic eruptions. These could definitely be dated because they contained radioisotopes.

Scientists compared and aligned the Arizona core dates to the NJ-NY ancient lake cores using bands found in all of the cores, indicating reversals in Earth’s magnetic fields. Yes, “reversals”! This allowed them to more precisely study the records. The analysis then demonstrated that the climate swings did indeed take place every 405,000 years for at least the last 215-million years, which is back through the Late Triassic Age when dinosaurs walked the Earth.

What does all this have to do exactly with Venus and Jupiter? Understanding gravitational forces by mass, Venus — the closest planet to us at 24-million miles — tugs us slightly closer to the Sun, and Jupiter — the largest planet in our solar system at 318-times more massive than Earth — tugs us slightly further from the Sun. At the peaks of those infrequent elliptical orbits, Earth has indeed historically experienced (the last 215-million years) hotter summers and colder winters with more extreme times of rain-flooding and dryer droughts

antarctic ice-strata

Antarctic ice strata also determines Earth’s climate millions of years in the past

Dr. Dennis Kent at Columbia and Rutgers Universities, specializing in paleomagnatism, states:

Scientists can now link changes in the climate, environment, dinosaurs, mammals and fossils around the world to this 405,000-year cycle in a very precise way. The climate cycles are directly related to how the Earth orbits the sun and slight variations in sunlight reaching Earth lead to climate and ecological changes.

Beyond Earth’s ancient past and astrophysics this study is a substantial breakthrough for the methods in which geologists are able to date cores and present a reliable more accurate timeline of Earth’s geologic past. It will also assist in many other scientific domains!

Paleontologist of the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Steve Brusatte:

[With the aid of APTS and newest magnetostratigraphy it] is a really important study for clarifying the Triassic timescale and untangling the sequence of events that occurred as Pangea began to split up and the dinosaurs originated and then diversified. It’s mostly a study of how to tell geological time rather than of how changes in climate relate to evolution.

Most people want to know the more immediate concern: Where are we currently in the Venus-Jupiter climate-cycle? And could Venus’ and Jupiter’s tug-cycles be responsible for our current climate-changes?

Bad news climate-change deniers. Astronomers and astrophysicists calculate that we are about in the middle of the 405k cycle. Earth’s orbit is very close to circular, not elliptical, and presently not near enough to cause disruptions in climate or global warming. The changes we have been experiencing come from some 238-years of outsized human output and input in the release of greenhouse gasses.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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