Germ-Line Editing, 2nd-Gen Formula-E, and Cheaper IVF | Vol. 4 / No. 18

Photo: Stephen Allport, CC BY-SA 2.0

In the news we’ve got a tentative green light from NASEM on editing the human germ line, a new breed of electric race cars coming next year, and a cheaper (but still effective) kind of in-vitro fertilization. It’s the news roundup for Sunday, February 26, 2017!


Yes, But Carefully

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (NASEM) have given a very cautious green light to human embryo modification, with the February 14 release of a long-awaited report on the subject. Embryos destined for implantation could, the reports says, be modified in very specific circumstances — for example to “eliminate devastating genetic diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia or cystic fibrosis.” Huntington’s would probably also be on that list. Of course this comes with a heap of caveats, the first of which being that we’d first need to be able to do the procedure very safely and very reliably — something potentially decades away. Even so, this is a massive (and in my humble opinion positive) shift away from the scaremongering that met the question when it was proposed just two years ago. The concern on everybody’s mind is that these kinds of changes affect what’s called the “germ line” — any changes made of this nature will be passed down to any children of the modified children, and will of necessity eventually permeate the gene pool. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done — just that it should be done exceedingly carefully. If we can eliminate the genes that cause cystic fibrosis from the entire human gene pool — and only those genes — then I can’t see a single reason not to. But as I said, the technology isn’t there yet. For the time being, the report has put a moratorium on editing for the purposes of human implantation, but in order to move the technology forward, in vitro studies like those performed in 2015 in China are good to go. It’ll take hard work and dedication, but germ line editing could rid humanity of several seriously unpleasant diseases. You can read more over at Nature News.


Photo: Spark

Forumla-E Facelift

If you don’t follow car racing, you might not know that a little over three years ago a new “league” was launched in the sport. Called “Formula E,” it’s the F1 equivalent for electric cars. The fourth season has yet to start — that begins later this year, but in the fifth season, starting in late 2018, Formula-E is getting a new look. The fifth season will see the leap to the so-called “second generation” Formula-E design, and some pretty amazing concept art is starting to filter through to blogs. Now Spark Racing Technologies, the company responsible for the first-generation designs, has released their designs, and the visuals are amazing. Plus, the next generation doesn’t just have to look the part — a large part of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) call for second-gen designs is technical specs. For example, the next generation of cars will have to go twice the distance of the current generation on a single charge. Spark thinks they’re up to the challenge, though, and from the way these images look, maybe they are. The future is green, people. And sexy.


Photo: INVO Bioscience

Cheaper IVF

For couples who require a little assistance in having children, In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is the gold standard. A woman is given drugs to stimulate egg release, the eggs are gathered, and they’re introduced to sperm under laboratory conditions. After a period of days, they’re returned to the mother, where hopefully they’ll implant and develop. But it’s not cheap — it can easily cost ten thousand dollars a treatment, and it can take several treatments to work. Which is why news out of Calgary might become a blessing to hopeful parents int the future. The new technology drops the cost by as much as half by incubating the developing blastocysts in the mother. Instead of recreating the precise conditions that an embryo requires — humidity, temperature, pH — a plastic capsule is placed in the mother’s vagina and held in place for five days with a diaphragm. It’s called “intra-vaginal culture” or IVC. All the other steps, before and after, are the same, but it requires a lot less work and therefore lowers the cost of treatments. The effectiveness appears to be pretty much on par as well, and for half the price, that’s something astonishing. And the weirdest part? The technique — being branded as “Effortless IVF” — was developed with crowdfunding. It’s just another sign that the future is really beyond prediction. You can read more about it over at Motherboard.



And here’s what we got up to this week, in case you missed any of it.

If you didn’t read each and every one, you should. Go do it. Now. (please?)


Best of the Rest

And as always, there’s way too much going on in the world for four unpaid bloggers to cover, so to make up for it, here it is, your weekly linkspam:


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.