Crypto-Info Approach to the Ethics of Genetic Engineering

I just read Wired’s America Needs To Figure Out The Ethics of Gene Editing Now, by Nick Stockton.

We are naïve to think that a moratorium would work because there are countries out there who are determined to supersede the US. Therefore, the focus should not be to halt research but to make it safer – for everyone, not just us. Recall how AIDS became a major health consideration in the US. Therefore, making this research safer for everyone makes it safer for us, too.

According to this Wired article, there are two scientific perspectives on this, need for open discussion (these include, George Q. Daley, R. Alta Charo, Steven Martin, Jennifer Doudna, Hank Greely, Mike Botchan) and temporary moratorium of “baby making” (Edward Lanphier, R. Alta Charo, Steven Martin).

In my opinion it is not correct to restrict scientists’ research to “safe” research but we have to weigh that against the benefits of progress. Learning, experimentation and research are all part of the process of making progress. “Safety” is something that we discover with hindsight – airplanes as weapons came to our national consciousness with 9/11. And for Christians who believe this is wrong, see Genesis 1:26.

What this article shows is that we don’t know enough about genes, gene splicing, and germline editing. Proof of this lies in answering this question I had asked at the 2013 100 Year Starship Study held in Houston, TX. What would happen if we took the entire nucleus/DNA of a simple animal and placed inside a plant cell, and do the reverse, a plant nucleus/DNA into an animal cell. Would the animal nucleus still develop into an animal, and would the plant nucleus still develop into a plant?

The findings will give us many answers. Are specific enzymes/proteins required per type of life form? Is there a universal information transference mechanism between nucleus and organelles for both animal and plant cells? Or are each life form’s mechanism different? If so how did evolution come up with two different mechanisms, and are there other mechanisms? Can the nucleus change the proteins within the cells to match its requirements? Can an animal (plant) nucleus convert the cell to an animal (plant) cell? Did the cell evolve independently of the nucleus? . . . .

Answer is we don’t know, because we don’t know enough of how information is transmitted from the nucleus to the cell organelles, as we are still experimenting with bits and pieces of DNA. That is, even though our research is very advanced our considerations are very primitive.

I suspect that if we change our perspective, from researching bits of DNA, to forming a 3-layer model (DNA, gene & information), we can progress faster. This crypto-info model consists of a bottom foundational layer, the DNA; the middle recording layer, genes, and the top information layer. The foundational layer is the physical implementation consisting of adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine bases, and a couple of other things. The recording layer is the store of select information, and the information layer has what, how, when to do it, and maybe more.

Our current research is based on the middle layer, splicing and moving around recording units or genes. Why are these recording units or genes combined together as strands and not individually present in the nucleus? The answer would suggest that there is information in the positional arrangement of these genes. Interpolating would suggest that the positional arrangement of the bases within a gene is how gene specific information is stored. So we understand how information is stored in the DNA. We don’t, however, understand what this information is. It is encrypted, therefore the term crypto-info. What is this information and how is it structured? An examination of the smallest genes would be a start to understanding this. The earlier animal-plant question raises another, is this coded information context-sensitive?

Of course once we get a working crypto-info model we will probably discover many more things about the DNA, its information, and its storage transference mechanisms. This crypto-info model raises another question, since silicon is the closest chemical to carbon, could a silicon-based DNA be constructed? What about other elements?

Coming back to the original questions about open discussions and temporary moratoriums, the crypto-info model shows that to address these issues we need to lay down guidelines of HOW to do DNA related research as opposed to WHAT DNA research we could do.

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Curiosity Made It

I watched NASA ustream broadcast of the Curiosity landing on Mars, live.

Congratulations to everyone at NASA JPL, and all their partners. Curiosity, made it to Mars safely.

Immense. Finally, we are interplanetary explorers.

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Benjamin T Solomon is the author & principal investigator of the 12-year study into the theoretical & technological feasibility of gravitation modification, titled An Introduction to Gravity Modification, to achieve interstellar travel in our lifetimes. For more information visit iSETI LLC, Interstellar Space Exploration Technology Initiative

Expect Confirmation of Extraterrestrial Life by 2047

Recently Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute, wrote an article in the Huffington Post How to Find Extraterrestrial Life. He had proposed that the search for extraterrestrial life was a three-way horse race. According the Shostak:

(1) Discover Life Nearby:  This is the search for life in our solar system.

(2) Sniff It Out: Do the sort of spectral analysis that might detect atmospheric gases caused by biology.

(3) Eavesdrop On ET: Otherwise known as SETI, is the effort to detect radio signals or laser flashes from technically savvy extraterrestrials.

Neat, Shostak has set the frame work for further dscussions. Note that the (1) is the search for the existance of life based molecules. That (2) is the search for life forms, whether past or present. And (3) is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

He says that a priori all are equally likely to be successful. Lets think again.

With respect to (1) Discover Life Nearby, lets look at the record . Using the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit & Opportunity, as examples, Spirit which was 2.3m wide, covered 8.81 km over 581 sols (a Martian day that is approximately an Earth day), that is approximately 19 m2 per day. Given that the surface of Mars is 144,798,500 km2 it will take Spirit about 7.6 x 1012 days or 208,340,844 centuries, to examine the total surface of Mars. That is, assuming randomness, and that life did exist on Mars in the past, the quick & dirty probability of finding life on Mars on any day with current technology is 1.3 x 10-13. We have a better idea of Mars. It is mostly barren. However, not a clue about the Europa the moon of Jupiter, that is believed to have oceans beneath its ice.

With current projections it likely that NASA will have a satellite at Europa in the 2020-2030 time frame.

So, we can make 2 types of guesses. Assuming that life started on Europa some millions ago, then the probability (from a detection perspective) of finding life on Europa is good, close to 1. However, if Europa is a liquid version of Mars, then the probability is on the order of 1 x 10-13.

Therefore, the time frame for discovery of extraterrestrial life by (1) Discover Life Nearby, is about 2025 assuming no budgets cuts or other re-prioritizations.

With respect to (2) Sniff It Out, scientist estimate that there are about 1 x  1010 Earth like planets in our Milky Way. Lets assume that the Goldilocks Zone is a necessity. Using Pluto as the outer extreme of planets in a Star Local system, and Mars and Venus as boundaries of our Goldilocks Zone, then the approximate probability of finding one of these Earth-like planets in the Goldilocks Zone is 2.89 x 10-2. This reduces the number of Earth-like planets capable of supporting life to 289,340,102. Or the probability of finding life on atleast one of these planets is atleast 3.45 x  10-9.

I would estimate that the time frame for detecting extraterrestrial life is between today, and 35 years from now or  2047.

It could be any day now as the Dutch using the Very Large Telescope in the Chilean Andes have detect carbon monoxide on a planet hugging the star Tau Bootis that is 51 light-years away. The other end of my estimate is 2047. This is because the James Webb telescope was 30-years in the making.

So (2) Sniff It Out, has a better chance of finding evidence of life than (1) Discover Life Nearby.

Now how about (3) Eavesdrop On ET? As the author of the 12-year study An Introduction to Gravity Modification, it is slim. Sorry, Tarter, Shostak and all of you at the SETI Institute. But wait, I haven’t finished.

Look at our civilization. In 1895 Guglielmo Marconi  proved that long distance radio transmission was possible. In 117 years we have exponentially evolved our technological sophistication to what it is today, 2012.

As the author of the 12-year study An Introduction to Gravity Modification I have proposed (see page 195) the existance of subspace, where everything is probabilistic, and light speed is not a restriction. Therefore, if confirmed, there is the strong possibility that by 2025/2035 this planet will go radio silent, because all our transmissions will be through subspace.

That is, the window to observe a radio intelligent extraterrestrial civilization is about 100 to 150 years, then they go silent. 100-150 years is an immensely thin slice compared to the distances of stars even within our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Or the probability of detecting extraterrestrial radio transmissions within our own galaxy is approximately 1.25 x 10-6. It is actually a little better than this but I am using quick & dirty for this blog posting, and this will do.  This is much better than a posteriori 1 x 10-13 for (1) Discover Life Nearby and  3.45 x  10-9 for (2) Sniff It Out.

So SETI, keep eavesdropping, and we can expect confirmation of Extraterrestrial Life by 2047 latest.

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Benjamin T Solomon is the author & principal investigator of the 12-year study into the theoretical & technological feasibility of gravitation modification, titled An Introduction to Gravity Modification, to achieve interstellar travel in our lifetimes. For more information visit iSETI LLC, Interstellar Space Exploration Technology Initiative.