Inception, a clever movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio where the premise of the story is to sneak into a person’s subconscious and implant an idea or a memory whilst they sleep. When the person awakes from their slumber they cannot distinguish the implanted memory from their own. It makes for blockbuster cinematography, but the practical concept is quite frightening to think about: the ability to artificially implant memories inches closer to the prospect of reality distortion.Read More
The world we currently live in would have seemed like science fiction to humans in the not to distant past. Everyday more and advancements transform sci-fi dreams into reality. Most recently gene editing of human embryos has been birthed into the realm of possibility (cheesy pun intended!). In theory gene editing embryos could allow you to choose preferential traits in your soon to be human flesh-blob. That level of ability does not currently exist, but the latest developments in gene editing are still pretty astonishing.
In a recent study scientists took a human embryo and edited a dangerous mutation from the genes of that embryo; human reality, meet science fiction. Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, with colleagues in California, China and South Korea, edited embryos, fixing a mutation that causes a common heart condition that can lead to sudden death later in life. The biggest hurdles were producing embryos in which all cells, not just some, were mutation-free, while also avoiding creating unwanted extra mutations during the process. The researchers found that when gene-editing components were introduced with sperm to the egg before fertilization, the success of the process was markedly different from previous approaches. If embryos with the repaired mutation were allowed to develop into babies, they would not only be disease-free but would also not transmit the disease to their descendants.
In response to unprofessional behavior by another scientist, a marine science colleague recently stated that they were so used to bad behavior in their area of research that they just accepted it as normal, and that they basically had “Stockholm syndrome”. Sadly this all too common, that unprofessional behavior in some fields and areas is so common (whether it be academic bullying and hazing, plagiarizing and stealing ideas and data, or sexism and harassment see The Dark Side of Academia) that it becomes the accepted norm. This is particularly prevalent in fields that are small and insular.
Stockholm, despite its associated syndrome, is really quite lovely
Several images circulate on the internet that capture the plight of rapid Arctic climate change, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. This image, for me, is the most alarming:
Humans are edging closer and closer to telepathic communication where one human communicates with another purely from thinking. Wait… what’s that you say? We are already there?! Like something out of a sci-fi thriller neuroscientists in Europe and America demonstrated the viability of direct brain-to-brain communications in humans.
I’ve been critical of President Obama’s policies concerning science, technology and education in the past. I think he uses a lot of great-sounding rhetoric, but I have yet to see very much in the way of actual results. Despite lofty promises about climate change, we remain without a cap-and-trade system or any sort of meaningful response plan. To make things worse, the administration recently fired their primary adviser for climate change policy. Is all hope lost? Perhaps not.
One of my favorite parts of being a scientist is attending conferences. In addition to getting feedback on your research from leaders in your field and staying current on other people’s work, conferences are a lot of fun. When the daily sessions end, it’s basically a bunch of cool people who share your interests looking to have a good time after a long day. While most people (including myself) care more about the knowledge transfer than the celebrations (exhibit A- I’m going to a conference in Minnesota next summer) , I’ve known more than a few people who have chosen not to go to certain conferences because the host city was “boring”. This makes it all the more surprising that the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), one of the largest scientific societies in the United States, announced that their 2011 conference would be held in Salt Lake City and not New Orleans (as had originally been proposed).
Two of the strongest environmental laws in the world are the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Among many other statutes, these laws make it a Federal crime for anyone to harass endangered marine mammal species such as the West Indian manatee. By the accepted definitions of the word “harass”, this means that people cannot swim with and certainly cannot touch a manatee. However, at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, visitors can do both of these things- and it’s totally legal!
While attending last year’s American Elasmobranch Society conference, I was asked to fill out a survey concerning my views on lethal shark research. My response, along with those of many other participants, has now been analyzed and written up into a new essay in the Journal of Conservation Biology. Michelle Heupel and Colin Simpendorfer argue that lethal sampling of some individual sharks is sometimes necessary in order to get the data needed to protect those animals’ entire species. However, attitudes about conservation in general and sharks specifically are changing, and many (including these authors) feel that this is starting to affect marine biology as a science.
The death of Sea World trainer Dawn Branchaeu revived an old debate over whether it is appropriate to keep orca whales in captivity. Many people are calling for all captive orcas to be set free, but I continue to support aquariums because of the roles they serve as educators and conservationists. Although several readers have pointed out that the sea world incident itself would make for a solid ethical debate, I am instead going to take you back more than 15 years to a movie that started this whole movement: Free Willy.