A Peek at Amazing Discoveries of the Past Decade

I’ve posed many questions regarding the ethics of research being done. Today, I want to talk about the good science has done. Let’s take a tiny peak at the amazing discoveries of the past decade. 

The Human Genome

The year 2000 saw a rough draft of the human genome released. The final draft published in 2003 received updates in 2007. 

They believed this research would help alleviate diseases and advance medical break throughs. Sadly, that is slow in coming. The National Human Genome Research Institute estimates that it takes about seventeen years to advance from new research information to something useful for patients. But much is being done. Check out their website for detailed information about research on cystic fibrosis, infectious disease outbreaks, pharmacogenomics, and much more.

Archeology

The 2010s brought extraordinary discoveries in the field of Archeology. British researchers found the body of King Richard III

Airborne lasers led scientists to discover more than 60,000 ancient Maya buildings in Guatemala.

image of facial reconstruction of Homo Naledi one of the amazing discoveries of the past decade

The discovery of Homo Naledi, a new species with a mix of human and primate features, suggests they may have been a hybrid.

Radar detection and lasers and photographs from space have aided archeologists in their search. The number of discoveries made in archeology is impossible to cover in this short blog. 

Space

Oh, my. So many discoveries and adventures during the past decade. They finally, 100 years later, confirmed Einstein’s idea and heard or felt the first gravitational waves.

NASA’s Kepler Telescope (and others) found thousands of new exoplanets.

By Event Horizon Telescope , CC BY 4.0,

They captured the first image of a black hole. 

NASA’s probes, Voyager I and Voyager II, crossed the outer boundary of the heliosphere.

The first commercial spacecraft delivered supplies to the International Space Station. 

The Good News Goes On

This is a tiny peak at the amazing discoveries of the past decade. If you’d like to read more,, check out this Cool Blend of Science and Technology post. During the next decade we will explore and study this information (and more), and we will learn more about ourselves, our planet, and the universe.

Are there discoveries you thought were amazing, and I didn’t mention them? Please tell us about them in the comments below.

In the Year 2525, Will These Treatments Keep You Alive?

Modern technological innovations have made dramatic differences in the work and daily lives of people. And these innovations are influencing medicine. In the year 2525, will these treatments keep you alive? Maybe. The genetic studies may take longer. Some, like 3-D printing, may save lives a lot sooner.

Pharmacogenomics

Drawing of a lab bottle containing a double helix--someday medical treatments based on pharmacogenomics may save your life.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs. Scientists will study the genetic makeup of a patient. With this genetic information, doctors will personalize medications. They will know which medicines an individual will respond to. They’ll be able to avoid medication related illness like Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Side effects may become a thing of the past.

The field of study is still in its infancy. But pharmacogenomics has a lot of potential. One hope is that we can avoid addiction. And personalized medications will provide a better quality of life for many people.

3-D Printing

Photo of a 3-D Prosthetic hand. You don't have to wait for the year 2525 for this medical treatment.

One day organ transplants will be obsolete. If you need an organ, your doctor will print one on a 3-D printer. It will be made with your own tissue. Your body will recognize and accept it.

“The most significant developments in 3-D printing have come in external prosthetics, cranial or orthopedic implants, and custom airway stents. But it has also proven helpful in surgical planning” of complex surgeries. (Find more information here. ) Medical devices 3-D printed will match the patient’s own anatomy exactly. Thus the device is much more comfortable for the patient. It often provides better performance outcomes as well. 

Those organ transplants of the future? Printing human tissue is under study now. A tiny human heart was 3-D printed by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel

Someday, perhaps by the year 2525, no one will die while waiting for a suitable organ transplant!

RNA Therapies

Personalize treatments using RNA therapy will “‘interfere’ with genetic data at the RNA level and intercept a genetic abnormality before it gets translated into functioning (or non-functioning) proteins.” Hopefully, these therapies prevent or reverse rare genetic diseases. Read more here.


Treatments of the Future

There are many more things to learn to make these technologies effective. We also must establish guidelines for these treatments. And like with conservation genetics, there are ethical questions to consider.

But the future of medical technology is right out of science fiction. One day, these treatments may be the norm. Perhaps in 2525 we, like Dr. Bones from Star Trek, will consider today’s medical treatments barbaric. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Conservation Genetics is in the good, the bad, and the ugly spotlight. Conservation Genetics “aims to understand the dynamics of genes in populations principally to avoid extinction.” Clear as mud?

Illustration of a strand of DNA--The good, the bad, the ugly of Conservation Genetics

An Example

It may be easier to understand with an example. Conservation genetics aims to help endangered species, like African cheetahs. Today the existing 10,000 African cheetahs share 99 percent of their DNA. In other words, they’re all related. This means there is little genetic diversity. Low genetic diversity leads to a population that is highly susceptible to disease. Disease that could make the African cheetahs extinct.

Photo of the African cheetah. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about Conservation genetics and saving the African cheetah.

Scientists involved with cheetah breeding projects determine how closely related two cheetahs are. They want to reintroduce genetic variety into the population of cheetahs. So, they choose the ones that are the furthest apart genetically and breed those two together. 

If they are successful, the cheetah population will grow. (Source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/better-living-through-conservation-genetics/)

Revive & Restore

Revive and Restore is a nonprofit organization. Its mission is to “enhance biodiversity through new techniques of genetic rescue for endangered and extinct species.” One of their funded projects searches for the genomic trigger of bleaching the coral reefs. They say that this study has the “potential opportunity to engineer genomic resilience to climate change. They also hope to de-extinct the Woolly Mammoth.

The Good

Preserving some species (bees?) would be good, even essential, for the survival of the human race. And who would argue against restoring beautiful cats like cheetahs? Or the coral reefs that protect shorelines and provide habitats for many species? 

The Bad: Not a Simple Answer

According to Nature, the early studies of the low genetic variability of the cheetah had many inconsistencies. But those studies brought genetics into conservation efforts and research. Conservationists are learning. They study population decline and inbreeding many near-extinction species. 

The cheetahs are one of many species that have developed low genetic variety despite no evidence of population decline. The authors of the article in Nature caution that scientists may study and manipulate genetic variations that do not matter to the species. 

They suggest that for some species, the low genetic variations during a population decline may be the best genetic survival mechanism for the species. 

The Ugly: Consequences

Conservation genetics is a young discipline. Young enough that they do not know what, beyond selective breeding programs, they might be able to do. 

Even with selective breeding programs, there have been consequences. “when a population of Tatra mountain ibex in Czechoslovakia was ‘enriched’ by new animals from Sinai and Turkey, the offspring inherited an inappropriate calving date, giving birth in mid-winter.” The calves born in the winter died. 

Learning how to de-extinct the Woolly Mammoth may help its current day cousins survive longer. We don’t know what the consequences of de-extincting any species would be. We rarely know the consequences of any new scientific research will be. Does that mean we should abandon new research?

Ethics

As usual, the ethics discussions lag the scientific discussions and studies. Are conservation genetic efforts “directing evolutionary change?” Is de-extinction of long-gone species, like the Woolly Mammoth, an ethical thing to do? What about saving the coral reef? Or the cheetahs?

We humans are responsible directly and indirectly for the extinction of many species. Does that mean we have a moral duty to restore the species? If that is our moral duty, what about our duty to our species? If we learn enough, we could eradicate some diseases. Should we? Is there a line we should not cross? 

What do You Think?

We merely touched on the good, the bad, and the ugly of Conservation Genetics. Had you heard of conservation genetics before? Will the potential good of conservation genetics outweigh any bad or ugly consequences? Would you de-exterminate the Woolly Mammoth, if you could?

Inspiration from Real-life, Heart-wrenching History

We Americans, like many other people, don’t like to acknowledge our less honorable moments. I found inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history while writing my novel, My Soul to Keep. I’m talking about Eugenics. Specifically, Negative Eugenics.

Negative eugenics is the type we associate with the Nazis. Unfortunately, America has a long, dark history of negative eugenics that pre-dates the Nazis’ use.

An Act to Regulate Immigration

It began in 1882 with the passage of “An Act to Regulate Immigration.” That act established criteria for allowing immigrants into the United States. The act included the right to deny any passengers entry into the country if they appeared to be lunatics, unable to care for themselves, or convicts.

The Father of Eugenics

Photograph of Sir Frances Galton, Darwin's cousin who coined the term eugenics part of my inspiration from real-life heart-wrenching history for my book, My Soul to Keep.
Sir Frances Galton, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, coined the term eugenics in 1883. In it’s simplest form, eugenics means “well-born.” More to Galton’s concept, it meant “the science which deals with all influences that improve inborn qualities.” Galton studied the upper classes of Britain. He concluded that their social positions were due to their superior genes. Selective marriage was his recommendation. He hoped to end poor genetics by having more healthy and above average intelligence producing more children. This type of genetic manipulation is considered positive eugenics. Many countries practiced or encouraged positive eugenics. In the 1880’s, the United States was, like many other countries, afraid. There was a perceived degradation of society. People pointed to rising populations in prisons and institutions for the feeble-minded and predicted “racial suicide.”

The Laws

Connecticut was the first state in the U.S. to pass a eugenics-type law regulating marriage in 1896. It prohibited marriage for anyone who was epileptic, imbecile, or feeble-minded.

In 1887, Michigan became the first state to propose a law to sterilize criminals and the feeble-minded. The law did not receive enough support and did not pass.

The First Sterilizations

Dr. Albert Ochsner documented the first known vasectomy performed on criminals in 1899. He suggested sterilizing all hardened criminals to stop the procreation of criminals.

Photograph of Charles Davenport an American eugenicist who was part of my inspiration from real-life heart-wrenching history for my book, My Soul to Keep.
Charles Davenport, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

In 1904, Charles Davenport, an American eugenicist, and biologist became the director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory located in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. He set up a biological experimentation station to study evolution through testing done on plants and animals. It was this research that eugenists used as a basis for and to support their research. Davenport eventually set up the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in Cold Spring Harbor.

Indiana became the first place in the world to pass a sterilization law in 1907. Eugenics-based, it allowed for compulsory sterilization of institutionalized individuals who were “unfit to reproduce.” Shamefully, many states followed suit.

More Heart-Wrenching History To Come

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of my Inspiration series of posts. This is only the tip of the inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history I used in writing My Soul to Keep. Did you know about the practice of eugenics in American’t history? Next week, there will be more about sterilization laws, the ERO, who in America who supported eugenics, and the shocking length of time eugenics has been practiced in the US. Stay tuned for more Inspiration from Real Life Heart-wrenching History, Part II and learn how I used the inspiration. My Soul to Keep is available on Amazon, and many more online stores.