Maps, books and jigsaws: The human genome is back

I was recently messing about on the news database Nexis when I came across this pronouncement from 1982!! “Weissmann appealed directly to the delegates for an international basic-research fund to determine how genes function and their relationship to disease. With current technology, he declared, mapping the entire human genome would require some 50,000 man-years and …

Genetics and genomics – when metaphors begin to matter

I remember in the not so distant past standing in the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge admiring the huge sequencing machines and chatting about public engagement with colleagues before giving a talk about genomics and metaphors. I also remember writing some things about gene editing and metaphor. In my mind all this related to basic …

Mutant words

I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on this sunny morning of the 19th of December when I heard the phrase ‘mutant strain’, used in reference to a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which is apparently spreading in the South East. My ears twitched of course, as they did with ‘mutant …

Minimal genomes, maximal assumptions

This is another guest post by Massimiliano Simons who is a postdoctoral researcher at the department of philosophy and moral sciences at Ghent University. He is also a member of the Working Group on Philosophy of Technology (WGPT) at KU Leuven, Belgium. *** Ten years ago the J. Craig Venter Institute announced the birth of …

CRISPR, the Nobel, and women in science

I wrote my first blog post about CRISPR, gene editing or genome editing on 24 March 2015. It was entitled “From recombinant DNA to genome editing: A history of responsible innovation?” And I have written quite a few more blog posts about this new biotechnology since then. I knew that sometimes in the distant future …

Gene writing: Between art and nature

In the past, I have written a bit about genomics, synthetic biology and gene editing, from the perspective of language and culture. So, when Matthew Cobb alerted me to a new thing called ‘gene writing’ at the beginning of July, I pricked up my ears. I told myself that I should write a blog post …

Gene drives and Trojan horses: A tale of two metaphor uses

I was reading a recent article on gene drive entitled “Engineering bugs, resurrecting species: The wild world of synthetic biology for conservation” and came across this sentence about a so-called ‘Medea drive’: “This genetic Trojan Horse could then be used to spread elements that confer susceptibility to certain environmental factors, such as triggering the death …

New metaphors for new understandings of genomes

This is a guest post by Sarah Perrault and Meaghan O’Keefe (University of California Davis) based on their article “New metaphors for new understanding of genomes”. The article goes beyond regular complaints about the inadequacy of old metaphors, such as the genome as a blueprint, and beyond regular calls for a new language. Instead, it …

Communicating gene drive: The dangers of misleading headlines

As some of you know, I am interested in how people communicate about ‘gene drive’, a new biotechnology that can potentially be used to eradicate disease transmitting animals. Wiping out the daughters Some days ago, I saw a tweet that mentioned an article published in The Guardian entitled “Wiping out the daughters: Burkina Faso’s controversial …