The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. And it has me reading an excerpt of my novel, “Skin Deep.” I wrote it back in 2012 and I’m offering a brief sample that I hope will find a new audience. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: biotech
If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you drank milk at some point this year. You probably drank a lot more of it when you were a kid. The fact that you’re reading this proves that you didn’t die, as a result. That may not seem like a big deal, but compared to 100 years ago, it counts as a noteworthy feat.
Between 1850 and 1950, approximately a half-million infants died due to diseases contracted by drinking milk. If you do the math, that’s about 5,000 deaths a year, just from drinking milk. Keep in mind, these are children. That’s a lot of death and suffering for drinking one of the most basic substances the animal kingdom.
These days, death by drinking milk is exceedingly rare. Thanks to processes like pasteurization, milk is one of the safest substances you can drink. If anyone does get sick, it’s usually from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk. However, it’s so rare that most people don’t think about it. It’s just a normal part of how we manage our food and nourish ourselves.
I bring up milk because it nicely demonstrates what happens when we apply technology to improve the quality, safety, and abundance of our food. Despite what certain misguided critics may say, many of which probably haven’t experienced extreme starvation, this has been an objective good for humanity, civilization, and the world, as a whole.
Modern medicine and the Green Revolution, championed by the likes of Norman Borlaug, helped give us more efficient ways of producing massive quantities of food. Now, there’s another technological advancement brewing that might end up being more impactful. You’ve probably seen commercials for it already. It has many names, but for now, I’m just going to call it synthetic meat.
It’s almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of producing meat through artificial processes, none of which involve the slaughtering of animals. For those concerned about animal welfare and environmental impacts, it’s the ultimate solution. At most, the animals contribute a few cells. The rest is grown in a laboratory. Nobody has to get hurt. Nobody has to go vegan, either.
It seems too good to be true and there are certainly aspects of synthetic meats that are overhyped. However, unlike other advancements like Neuralink or nanobots, this is already an evolving market. The first synthetic burger was made and consumed in 2013. It was the culmination of a long, laborious effort that cost upwards of $300,000.
Those costs soon came down and they came down considerably. By 2017, the cost of that same meat patty was around $11. People have paid much more for expensive caviar. That’s impressive progress for something that’s still a maturing technology with many unresolved challenges. With major fast food companies getting in on the game, the technology is likely to progress even more.
It’s here where I want to make an important point about this technology. Regardless of how you feel about it or why it’s being developed, there’s one aspect to it that’s worth belaboring.
We should embrace synthetic meat.
In fact, we should embrace this technology faster than others because the benefits of doing so will only compound.
I say this as someone who has tried an impossible meat burger. It’s not terrible. I wouldn’t mind eating them regularly if they were the only option available. That said, you can still tell it’s not traditional beef. That’s because this meat isn’t exactly the kind of cultured meat that’s grown in a lab. It’s assembled from plant proteins and various other well-known substances.
Ideally, synthetic meat wouldn’t just be indistinguishable from traditional beef. It would actually be safer than anything you could get naturally. Meat grown in a lab under controlled conditions can ensure it’s free of food-born illnesses, which are still a problem with meat production. It can also more effectively remove harmful byproducts, like trans fats.
In theory, it might also be possible to produce meat with more nutrients. Imagine a burger that’s as healthy as a bowl of kale. Picture a T-bone steak that has the same amount of nutrients as a plate of fresh vegetables. That’s not possible to do through natural means, but in a lab where the meat is cultured at the cellular level, it’s simply a matter of chemistry and palatability.
Meat like that wouldn’t just be good for our collective health. It would be good for both the environment and the economy, two issues that are rarely aligned. Even if you don’t care at all about animal welfare, synthetic meats has the potential to produce more product with less resources. On a planet of over 7.6 billion, that’s not just beneficial. It’s critical.
At the moment, approximately 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is dedicated to the meat production. In terms of raw energy requirements, meat requires considerably more energy than plants. That includes water consumption, as well. Making meat in its current form requires a lot of resources and with a growing population, the math is working against us.
Say what you want about vegetarians and vegans when they rant about the meat industry. From a math and resources standpoint, they have a point. However, getting rid of meat altogether just isn’t feasible. It tastes too good and it has too many benefits. We can’t make people hate the taste of burgers, but we can improve the processes on how those burgers are made.
Instead of industrial farms where animals are raised in cramped quarters, pumped full of hormones, and raised to be slaughtered, we could have factories that produce only the best quality meat from the best animal cells. It wouldn’t require vast fields or huge quantities of feed. It would just need electricity, cells, and the assorted cellular nutrients.
Perhaps 3D printing advances to a point where specific cuts of meat could be produced the same way we produce specific parts for a car. Aside from producing meat without having to care for than slaughter animals, such a system would be able to increase the overall supply with a smaller overall footprint.
Needing less land to produce meat means more land for environmental preservation or economic development. Farming, both for crops and for meat, is a major contributor to deforestation. Being able to do more with less helps improve how we utilize resources, in general. Even greedy corporations, of which the food industry has plenty, will improve their margins by utilizing this technology.
Increased supply also means cheaper prices and if the taste is indistinguishable from traditional meat, then most people are going to go with it, regardless of how they feel about it. There will still be a market for traditional, farm-raised meats from animals, just as there’s a market for non-GMO foods. However, as we saw with the Green Revolution in the early 20th century, economics tends to win out in the long run.
It’s a promising future for many reasons. There are many more I could list relating to helping the environment, combating starvation, and improving nutrition. Alone, they’re all valid reasons to embrace this technology and seek greater improvements. If I had to pick only one, though, it’s this.
If we don’t develop this technology, then these delicious meats that we love could be exceedingly scarce or prohibitively expensive in the future.
Like I said earlier, the way we currently produce meat is grossly inefficient. At some point, the demand for meat is going to exceed the current system’s capacity to produce it in an economical way. At that point, this delicious food that we take for granted might not be so readily available and the substitutes might not be nearly as appetizing.
The issue becomes even more pressing if we wish to become a space-faring civilization, which will be necessary at some point. If we still want to enjoy burgers, chicken wings, and bacon at that point, we’ll need to know how to make it without the vast fields and facilities we currently use. Otherwise, we might be stuck dining on potatoes like Matt Damon in “The Martian.”
While the situation isn’t currently that urgent, this is one instance where a new technology is the extra push. You don’t have to be a major investor in companies like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. Just go out of your way to try one of these new synthetic meat products. Let the market know that there’s demand for it and the machinations of capitalism will do the rest.
I understand that our inner Ron Swanson will always have a craving for old fashioned burgers, steaks, and bacon. Those things don’t have to go away completely, just as traditional farming hasn’t gone away completely. However, when a particular technology already exists and has so many potential benefits, it’s worth pursuing with extra vigor.
The planet will benefit.
The people will benefit.
The animals will benefit.
Our society, as a whole, will benefit.
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about CRISPR, biotechnology, and the prospect of ordinary people enhancing their biology in ways straight out of a comic book. In my defense, this past year has created plenty of distractions. Some have been so bad that my usual optimism of the future has been seriously damaged.
While my spirit is wounded, I still have hope that science and technology will continue to progress. If anything, it’ll progress with more urgency after this year. A great many fields are bound to get more attention and investment after the damage done by a global pandemic.
We can’t agree on much, but we can at least agree on this. Pandemics are bad for business, bad for people, bad for politics, and just objectively awful for everyone all around, no matter what their station is in life.
There’s a lot of incentive to ensure something like this never happens again is what I’m saying. While we’re still a long way from ending pandemics entirely, we already have tools that can help in that effort. One is CRISPR, a promising tool I’ve talked about in the past. While it wasn’t in a position to help us during this pandemic, research into refining it hasn’t stopped.
Despite all the awful health news of this past year, some new research has brought us some promising results on the CRISPR front. In terms of actually treading real people who have real conditions, those results are in and they give us reason to hope.
One such effort involved using CRISPR to help treat people with Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic condition that hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. It affects over 4 million people worldwide and often leads to significant complications that can be fatal.
Since CRISPR is all about tweaking genetics, it’s a perfect mechanism with which to develop new therapies. Multiple patients have undergone experimental treatments that utilize this technology. In a report form NPR, the results are exceeding expectations for all the right reasons.
At a recent meeting of the American Society for Hematology, researchers reported the latest results from the first 10 patients treated via the technique in a research study, including Gray, two other sickle cell patients and seven patients with a related blood disorder, beta thalassemia. The patients now have been followed for between three and 18 months.
All the patients appear to have responded well. The only side effects have been from the intense chemotherapy they’ve had to undergo before getting the billions of edited cells infused into their bodies.
The New England Journal of Medicine published online this month the first peer-reviewed research paper from the study, focusing on Gray and the first beta thalassemia patient who was treated.
“I’m very excited to see these results,” says Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the Nobel Prize this year for her role in the development of CRISPR. “Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”
Make no mistake. This is objectively good news and not just for people suffering from sickle cell disease.
Whenever new medical advances emerge, there’s often a wide gap between developing new treatments and actually implementing them in a way that makes them as commonplace as getting a prescription. The human body is complex. Every individual’s health is different. Taking a treatment from the lab to a patient is among the biggest challenge in medical research.
This news makes it official. CRISPR has made that leap. The possible treatments aren’t just possibilities anymore. There are real people walking this planet who have received this treatment and are benefiting because of it. Victoria Gray, as referenced in the article, is just one of them.
That’s another critical threshold in the development of new technology. When it goes beyond just managing a condition to helping people thrive, then it becomes more than just a breakthrough. It becomes an opportunity.
It sends a message to doctors, researchers, and biotech companies that this technology works. Some of those amazing possibilities that people like to envision aren’t just dreams anymore. They’re manifesting before our eyes. This is just one part of it. If it works for people with Sickle Cell Disease, what other conditions could it treat?
I doubt I’m the first to ask that question. As I write this, there are people far smarter and more qualified than me using CRISPR to develop a whole host of new treatments. After a year like 2020, everyone is more aware of their health. They’re also more aware of why science and medicine matter. It can do more than just save our lives. It can help us thrive.
We learned many hard lessons in 2020, especially when it comes to our health. Let’s not forget those lessons as we look to the future. This technology is just one of many that could help us prosper in ways not possible in previous years. We cheered those who developed the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s start cheering those working on new treatments with CRISPR.
Some things really shouldn’t have to be said. They’re so obvious, both in terms of common sense and basic human decency, that nobody should have to be reminded in any capacity. If you have a functioning brain and a simple understanding of a situation, you have no excuse.
Sadly, there are some people in this world who are just a special kind of asshole.
They don’t care what makes sense or what’s generally decent. They’ll just find a way to serve themselves, even if it causes legitimate harm to others.
This brings me to the assholes that the ongoing global pandemic has exposed. Now, this pandemic has already exposed plenty of assholes of a certain variety. The people who downplayed the pandemic and refused to take precautions are already deplorable human beings by any measure.
However, now that there are two vaccines available to end this pandemic, more assholes are being exposed in the most hypocritical way possible. Now, it should go without saying that, given the state of the pandemic, the first people who should get this treatment are the front line health care workers.
These people are the legitimate heroes of this pandemic. They need this vaccine. They deserve it. More lives will be saved because of them.
Even so, some people who are not front line health care workers are attempting to get this vaccine. Some are powerful people with powerful connections. Some are just well-connected, in general. Whatever their reason, if they’re not a front line health care worker, they’re still a special kind of asshole for cutting in line to get this vaccine.
I can’t be subtle or tactful about this.
I can’t be polite about it, either.
I’m just going to say what I feel as someone who has witnessed the damage and suffering that this pandemic has caused like so many others. It shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ll say it anyways.
If you’re a politician who uses their power and influence to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.
If you’re a rich, well-connected business type who uses their money and connection to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.
If you’re the friend or spouse of a billionaire or politician who uses that friendship to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.
If you’re someone who downplayed the pandemic or scoffed at basic health guidelines when it began and still attempt to get the vaccine, you’re an asshole.
If you’re an anti-evolution religious zealot who encouraged congregates to ignore the advice of doctors during the pandemic and still try to get the vaccine, you’re an asshole.
If you’re a just liar, cheater, or con-artist who uses those skills to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole of the highest order.
In essence, if you’re trying to jump ahead in the line to get this vaccine for any reason, even if you’re among those who didn’t take the pandemic seriously in the beginning, you are an asshole in the highest order. You are just one of the reasons why people lose faith in humanity and the future.
I would tell these people to knock it off, apologize, or show some basic human decency, but I have a feeling they’ll either ignore me or just make an excuse. I doubt those people would ever read this. I still think this is worth saying, if only to share that angry sentiment that many feel when they hear about people cutting in line to get this life-saving treatment.
The world is still in a precarious place right now. The pandemic isn’t over. There’s still a lot of work to be done and, as has been the case since the beginning, the front line health care workers who have been nothing short of superhuman, will bear the brunt of it. Anyone who cuts in front of them to get this treatment deserves nothing but the utmost scorn.
We will eventually emerge from this. Hopefully, there will come a point in 2021 where we can definitively say that this horrible pandemic is over. However, even after that fateful moment, let’s not forget about the assholes who did everything to help themselves when others were suffering.
They’ll still be assholes.
They’ll keep being assholes, no matter what the state of the world.
We can’t always avoid them, but we can expose them for the level asshole they are.
Good news tends to slip through the cracks, especially in today’s world of misguided hashtags and contrived outrage. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just how people are wired. Bad news gets our attention. That’s just how we’re wired. During times of crisis, such as a global pandemic, good news might as well be an alien concept.
For that reason, and many others, highlighting good news is incredibly important. That’s especially true when it comes to breakthroughs in medical science. As of now, everyone is rooting for doctors, biologists, and researchers to find new breakthroughs in treating diseases like COVID-19. While that effort will likely to dominate headlines for months to come, there is another headline that I feel is worth citing.
It doesn’t involve COVID-19. Instead, it involves vaginas.
I’m assuming I have your attention now.
I promise this isn’t entirely an excuse to write about vaginas. This is a real, legitimate breakthrough with some major implications. Regardless of whether or not you have a vagina, it has the potential to effect you, your loved ones, and future generations. Seeing as how we’re all alive, in part, because of vaginas, those breakthroughs are worth taking note of.
Specifically, this development has to do with lab-grown body parts. It has been an emerging industry in recent years. It’s one of those industries that used to exist on paper, but has since become very real and very promising. Thanks to disease, accidents, and human stupidity, people have a tendency to damage their organs. With this technology, we we’ll be able to swap them out for perfectly functional replacements.
While some organs are much harder to grow than others, a vagina is one of the few we’ve successfully grown in labs and transplanted into actual patients. Like the bionic penis I wrote about a few years ago, this is real. There are currently women in this world who have a lab-grown vagina in them and it works as well as any other. This 2014 article from the BBC nicely documents the science behind this breakthrough.
Doctors at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina used pioneering technology to build vaginas for the four women who were all in their teenage years at the time.
Scans of the pelvic region were used to design a tube-like 3D-scaffold for each patient.
A small tissue biopsy was taken from the poorly developed vulva and grown to create a large batch of cells in the laboratory.
Muscle cells were attached to the outside of the scaffold and vaginal-lining cells to the inside.
The vaginas were carefully grown in a bioreactor until they were suitable to be surgically implanted into the patients.
One of the women with an implanted vagina, who wished to keep her name anonymous, said: “I believe in the beginning when you find out you feel different.
“I mean while you are living the process, you are seeing the possibilities you have and all the changes you’ll go through.
“Truly I feel very fortunate because I have a normal life, completely normal.”
All the women reported normal sexual function.
I highlighted that bold part because it emphasizes the current goal of this technology. It’s intended to give women who have developmental issues, such as vaginal aplasia, a chance at normal sexual function. That’s usually how all medical breakthroughs start. It heals patience back to a level of normal functioning.
However, this technology has been working since 2014. It’s still in its infancy, but the reason I bring it up is because we’re currently in a situation where everyone is rooting for medical science to progress faster. This crisis, even though it doesn’t directly involve vaginas, could benefit from our current desire to see medical science progress.
As with the bionic penis, the science of lab grown body parts starts at restoring patients to normal function, but it doesn’t stop there. If anything, that just provides a baseline. As humans, with our wide capacity for kink, we’re rarely satisfied with just normal functionality in our bodies. That’s why breast implants are a multi-billion dollar industry.
Now, I’m not saying lab-grown vaginas will follow a similar path, but there’s definitely a market for them. As I’ve noted before, there’s still a wide orgasm gap between women and men. Some of that is psychological, but there’s also some biology behind it. Most women don’t achieve orgasm through vaginal sex alone and most sex ed classes never teach them that.
Education and insight can help, but that too has limits. As this technology matures, it’ll eventually graduate from simply restoring normal sexual function to enhancing it. That may sound somewhat radical, but it’s not that different from what people do now. People already take drugs, both illicit and prescription, to enhance sexual function. A lab grown vagina could just be a more ambitious effort.
How ambitious could it get? It’s hard to say. I’m not a woman and I can’t speak for women who might contemplate enhancing certain parts of their anatomy. I just know that the desire for a satisfying sex life transcends gender, taboos, and body image. As medical science advances, we have more and more tools with which to achieve that. Lab grown vaginas and bionic penises are just the latest and boldest.
Whatever form they take, they’ll ensure our future is a sexy one.