Tag Archives: CRISPR

Why You SHOULD Donate Your Genome To The Public


Have you ever wanted to contribute to the future of humanity, but lack the engineering skills or the understanding of quantum mechanics? Well, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve getting a PHD, working for Elon Musk, or volunteering as a guinea pig for medical experiments.

As I speak, medical science is boldly pushing forward in exploring the basic building blocks of human biology. I’m not just referring to the sexy parts either. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in in the early 2000s, we’ve entered unknown territory in terms of understanding what makes us healthy, what makes us sick, and how we go about treating it.

Beyond simply uncovering new treatments for genetic disease, of which there are many, learning about the fundamentals of human biology is critical to understanding who we are and where we’re going in the future. If the goal of every species is to adapt and survive, then learning about the human genome is akin to giving a light saber to a caveman.

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However, completing the Human Genome Project was just the first step. The primary goal of that project was to simply determine how many genes were in the human genome and how they’re organized within the 3 billion base pairs that make up our chromosomes. It’s not as much a tool as it is an instruction manual with a list of raw materials.

It was an arduous process. Between the time the Human Genome Project started in the early 90s to the time when it was completed over a decade later, the overall cost of sequencing one genome was a hefty $2.7 billion in 1991 dollars. That’s a lot for just one strand of DNA for one species. It’s hard to learn much from anything when it’s that expensive.

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Thankfully, much like early cell phones, science has refined the process and made it cheaper. In fact, it’s gotten a lot cheaper over the past decade. At the moment, it costs just a couple thousand dollars to get your genome sequenced. It’s only going to get cheaper. Some companies, in fact, hope to offer the service for less than $100. That means getting your genome sequenced may one day be cheaper than a set of premium headphones.

This is where your contribution comes in. Last last year, a man made his genome publicly available to the Personal Genome Project in the United Kingdom. That means pretty much anyone with an internet connection can access the specifics of this man’s genetics, right down to the base pair.

While that may seem like an overt surrender of privacy that the Ron Swansons of the world would despise, it’s actually a critical element in the process. It’s not enough to just understand the structure of the human genome. We also need to understand the many variations and diversity within it.

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To better understand why that’s so important, it’s important to remember just how clunky and inexact nature can be. Nature is, by necessity, a blunt instrument that is prone to many flaws. The range of genetic diversity within the human species is what helps us adapt, but it’s also prone to all sorts of flaws.

For most of human history, if not the history of life on Earth, we haven’t been able to do much about these flaws. Nature’s way of dealing with them is through the harsh, tedious, and slow process of natural selection. By learning more about the variations in the human genome, we can skip that process entirely. We can effectively maximize our genetic potential without multiple generations of trial, error, and suffering.

The tools for making use of that knowledge are already in development. I’ve mentioned CRISPR before as a possible method for treating most infectious diseases. That’s just one component in the larger field of genetic engineering, which promises to do more than just treat diseases. It could, in principle, maximize the potential of our genetics in every individual.

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By that, I don’t mean turning every human into a the kind of Übermensch that drives racists, mad scientists, and comic book villains. Like it or not, genetics can be a significant barrier for certain people in terms of realizing their physical, mental, and even sexual goals. If there’s a way to circumvent those barriers, why shouldn’t we seek it?

That’s not to say there aren’t risks. I remember Ian Malcom’s famous speech in “Jurassic Park” as much as anyone who was alive in the early 1990s. We’re not talking about creating monstrous creatures for our own amusement, though. We’re talking about the health, well-being, and suffering of countless individuals, including those alive today and those yet to be born.

In any effort to alleviate suffering and maximize human achievement, knowledge is power and information is the fuel. As it stands, we need more of the latter to improve the former. That’s why contributing your genome is one of the most meaningful things anyone not named Elon Musk can do to further this endeavor.

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That means if you have the ability to participate in the Personal Genome Project, you should seriously consider doing so. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the fundamentals of our own biology. The sheer breadth of human diversity at the genetic level is still not clear, but it’s already astounding in its own right.

By adding your genome to the mix, maybe you’ll reveal a certain trait or mechanism that will help us better understand disease. Maybe your DNA will help refine our understanding of how genetics influence our behavior, appearance, and ability to get along. Maybe doing so will reveal some unexpected heritage that you didn’t know you had.

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If you need a sexier reason for contributing your genome, then consider the possible insights our genes may offer to our sex lives. Perhaps there are genetic factors that effect our ability to form romantic bonds. Perhaps there are factors that effect the intensity, enjoyment, and satisfaction of sex. Even if you’re wary of genetic engineering, isn’t that worth exploring and refining?

There’s a lot to learn and a lot to gain. Some of us might not live long enough to experience those gains, but children alive today may still benefit. A future with less disease, less suffering, and even better sex lives is certainly a future worth working towards.

The opportunity to donate your genome is limited at the moment, but the growing demand for biotechnology and medicine is only accelerating. Even if you’re unable to contribute to the actual science, contributing your genome can be every bit as valuable. Our genome, like our lives, are precious and finite resources. Let’s make the most of them in the name of a better and sexier future.

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A Disease-Free World: We’re More Ready Than You Think


It’s such a frightening thought. It terrifies parents, priests, rabbis, mullahs, monks, and conservative republicans. People, especially young people, are having sex at this very moment. If that’s not horrifying enough, they’re having sex for fun.

They’re not doing it with their government-approved, religiously-sanctioned spouse. They’re not doing it to produce more babies that will grow into tax-paying, church-going citizens. They’re just doing it because they enjoy the wonderful, toe-curling pleasure that comes with sex.

The most horrifying thought of all, though, is that they’re doing it and they’re not facing any consequences for it. They’re not getting pregnant because of modern contraception. They’re not getting sick either because of modern medicine. There’s literally no legitimate reason other than stigma to dissuade people from having sex for fun. It’s such a horrifying thought.

Okay, that’s enough sarcasm for now. What I just described is an exaggerated extreme of the mentality of those who are opposed to a society that permits or does not punish sexual promiscuity. It’s a reverse of the thought experiment I pitched last year about a world where the diseases that used to scare people out of having sex are all cured.

I don’t think people realize just how much closer we are to that world than they think. Most people alive today don’t remember a world where the biggest dread wasn’t HIV. It was debilitating diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. To give you an idea of just how devastating they were, over 20,000 people died from syphilis alone in 1939.

Like small pox, these diseases ravaged generation after generation. Also like small pox, modern medicine eradicated it from our collective fears. In fact, the rise of antibiotics has been largely credited with kick-starting the sexual revolution of the 1960s, more so than contraception.

There are still some scary diseases out there, though. In some respects, those same parents, priests, rabbis, mullahs, monks, and conservative republicans can take a perverse comfort that diseases like HIV/AIDS provides a strong incentive to avoid excessive promiscuity. That comfort, however, won’t last.


In a previous post, I talked about an emerging medical tool called CRISPR and how it may hold the key to ending infectious disease as we know it. I also asked a question I’m sure the anti-promiscuity crowd dreads. Are we ready for a world where we don’t have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases?

There are people who believe that our society simply cannot function in a world where there aren’t any scary diseases to dissuade people from having more sex than the Catholic Church sanctions. On paper, their fears aren’t wholly unreasonable.

In a society with so much promiscuity, fewer people will get married. Fewer people will form the stable, nuclear family that every 50s sitcom championed. Without disease, why would anyone forge any stable family units? Then, there’s the children. How traumatic would it be for them if they grew up in a world where people just had sex for fun?


That’s not entirely sarcasm. That is a very real concern and I can empathize with it to some extent. A society without disease, but full of rampant promiscuity is just so different. Our society has always had to content with these horrible diseases. The idea that they would no longer be a factor just seems unnatural and uncharted for our species.

However, empathy or not, it’s also a sentiment that I believe is misguided. It’s rooted more in flawed assumptions about a specific cultural ideal than actual human biology. I would argue that human beings, as well as society in general, is more prepared for a disease-free world than the Vatican would have us believe.

I believe this because there is a precedent, sort of. In fact, this may be one of the few instances where caveman logic works in favor of our emerging future and not against it. To understand this, we have to go beyond the ways our hunter/gatherer ancestors functioned. We have to look at the practical aspects of these nasty diseases.

For a disease to be real nasty, it has to both spread easily and within a population of hosts that are able to infect as many potential hosts as possible. When you look at our modern infrastructure, or even our ancient trade routes, it’s easy to see why a nasty disease would choose humans.

It’s also easy to see why diseases would use sex to spread. Like eating, it’s a hardwired drive that built into every human being. The desire to mate is every bit as powerful as the desire to eat. Unlike foodborne disease, though, sex provides more opportunities to infect other hosts. On top of that, rubbing body parts together is a lot more direct than simply sneezing on someone.

However, while modern and even pre-modern infrastructure made sex an ideal mechanism for spreading disease, we have to remember that this situation is actually very recent. The ability to simply travel to other regions, meet other people, and possibly have sex with them is very new in the context of our evolutionary history. For most of that history, though, the story was very different.

That brings me back to the hunter/gatherer lifestyle from which all our ancestors evolved. Books like “Sex At Dawn,” which I’ve mentioned before, describe in great detail the particulars of this lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that, ironically to some extent, makes sex a pretty lousy method for transmitting disease.

This is because during those hunter/gatherer days, we humans roamed and foraged in small bands of closely-knit tribes. These tribes rarely interacted with other tribes because most were spaced out over large areas. Naturally, roaming lands and foraging for food makes it hard to stay in one place, stake claim to a territory, and fight over it.

On top of that, these close-knit tribes had very low population density, a limited ability to travel long distances, and no elaborate trade networks. That means that within these tribes, a sexually transmitted disease is rightly screwed. Sure, it can infect a tribe, but not much else. If that disease is fatal, it may kill the tribe, but it also kills itself as well. So if a disease as nasty as AIDS did emerge, it never had a chance to spread.

If there were any diseases, they couldn’t be fatal and they couldn’t seriously affect fertility. Like the common cold or the flu, it could only ever be so nasty. Otherwise, it never would’ve survived into the modern era.

Keep in mind, also, that the hunter/gatherer lifestyle was the lifestyle of choice for our species for nearly 90 percent of its existence. Our evolution and biology emerged within this lifestyle. That lifestyle was also conducive to some fairly loose sexual practices, many of which would make the Rick Santorums of the world faint. That’s why it’s not unreasonable to say that our ancestors had better sex lives than we do.

Those sexual practices were rarely conducive to the world of white picket fence type families that is so idealized by western civilization. It’s also not conducive to the world of kings and his multiple wives/concubines/sex slaves. That kind of rigid structure or hierarchy just doesn’t work in in a hunter/gatherer society. That’s why many practice strong egalitarian traditions.

This makes sense in terms of sheer pragmatism. In a society of hunter/gatherers where you’re only working with small tribes, you can’t be too much of a bigot. Everyone has to pitch in. Everyone has to share. You can’t be too big an asshole because you won’t survive without your tribe, nor will you have a chance to have sex. From an evolutionary and society perspective, it’s a pretty good deal.

In this context, human beings are already well-wired for a more promiscuous society. In fact, as “Sex At Dawn” argues half-jokingly, it may be better for us overall. You need only look at the happy, sexy lives that Bonobo chimps live. They have a lot of sex. They rarely fight. Even by hippie standards, they’re pretty chill.

At the moment, we humans can’t live those lives. Our world is too developed, too connected, and too vast for our caveman brains to make sense of. Add nasty diseases that can now use sex to effectively spread and it just isn’t pragmatic anymore, even if our biology favors it.

That may change very soon though. Once tools like CRISPR and contraceptives like Vasalgel are refined, those barriers are gone. We can safely exercise the same libido that our ancestors got to enjoy. What will that do for society? What will that do for the dynamics between men and women? It’s hard to imagine, but it’s a damn sexy idea that’s worth imagining.

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A Disease-Free World: It’s Closer Than You Think


Last year, I proposed a little thought experiment that I’m sure everyone whoever sat through a high school health class outside of Texas has contemplated at some point. I simply asked people to imagine a world where all the dreaded infectious diseases, including the very unsexy kind, were cured.

I tailored the thought experiment to focus on our sex lives because disease is still a major concern for anyone that is sexually active. That’s not just because diseases are used as scare tactics to dissuade teenagers from having more sex than priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks have deemed appropriate. These diseases still carry a stigma to them that you just don’t get with the cold or flu.

Anything that effects disease is bound to affect our sex lives and many underestimate just how big an effect it’s already had. Many attribute the sexual revolution of the 1960s to the rise of contraception, but in observing the historical data, it’s now clear that this remarkable advancement didn’t play quite as big a role.


If any one breakthrough should be credited with the sexual revolution and the greater sexual freedom that came with it, it’s modern antibiotics. That’s right. Penicillin probably did more for your sex life than the pill ever did.

That’s because up until the 20th century, nasty diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia weren’t just more prevalent. They were downright debilitating. Just ask Al Capone. There was a legitimate reason to avoid excessive sexual promiscuity. It could actually kill you.

These days, however, the diseases that ravaged generations and scared the extremely horny to death are no big deal. If caught early, a thorough round of antibiotics will ensure your blood is as clean as a chaste nun. While religious conservatives may hate that, it is one of the many benefits that modern medicine has bestowed upon us that our disease-weary ancestors could only dream of.


At the moment, HIV is the only disease that’s still fatal, but even that is losing its grip because modern antiviral drugs can contain it to the point where it’s manageable. It’s still a concern and it’s still ravaging certain parts of the world. However, at some point, even diseases like this will succumb to modern medicine.

I bring all this up because a future without infectious disease, including the unsexy kind, is actually closer than you think. I’m not saying it’ll happen in the next few years so don’t throw all your condoms away just yet. Within the next couple decades, though, we may very well see a future where the horrifying diseases we dread today no longer plague us.

To understand the scope of this issue, we first need to understand how most of our modern medicine works when it comes to treating infectious disease. Modern antibiotics, as well as antiviral drugs, operate in a way that’s akin to carpet bombing in World War II. Anyone who has seen one too many History Channel documentary knows about that.


It’s a messy, destructive, and potentially counterproductive effort that does a lot of collateral damage. Sure, you’ll probably kill a few Nazis, but you may also kill some of the folks opposing them. For many diseases, though, it does the trick. Our bodies can take the necessary punishment to take down these nasty bugs.

Now, we may have a new tool with which to fight disease and this one go beyond merely bombing its target. It’s more akin to sending a legion of Navy SEALs and ninjas to take down a handful of targets and do so with an efficiency that gives military commanders wet dreams. It’s called CRISPR and it will change the world in ways that even antibiotics never managed.

CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats,” but make no mistake. This exceedingly wordy, overly technical jargon is a game-changer. It’s modern medicines first functional gene-editing tool that allows scientists to cut and paste genes the same way we cut and paste text on a computer. That may not sound like a big deal, but if you’re concerned about your sex life, trust me. It’s a huge deal.


Infectious disease, be they a sore throat or total organ failure, relies on pathogenic organisms that are genetically programmed to infect others and spread to as many other hosts as possible. Anyone who saw the movie “Outbreak” understands this. Until CRISPR came along, we really couldn’t attack those genetics. That’s why we needed the biological equivalent of carpet bombing to combat them.

CRISPR changes that. It can specifically identify certain segments of DNA within an orgasm, snip them out, and either replace them with something else or nothing at all. For any robust infectious pathogen looking to ruin your weekend, that’s the equivalent of a head shot with a 44 magnum.


CRISPR is still in the early stages of its development. It is, essentially, in beta test mode wherein scientists and researchers are working out the kinks and refining various editing techniques. However, the implications are already taking shape.

Last year, a team at Temple University successfully proved that CRISPR could be used to remove HIV from infected cells. If CRISPR can take down something as robust and devious as HIV, a disease that has tormented medicine for decades, then all bets are off. Every disease that relies on a pathogenic microorganism is screwed.

Even antibiotic resistance won’t help them this time. That’s because CRISPR is akin to a chainsaw and a tree. The tree can only adapt so much to resist chemicals, pollutants, or whatever other lifeforms are used to kill it. No amount of adaptation will save it from a chainsaw. That’s why there are no chainsaw-resistant trees.


Modern medicine already spurred one sexual revolution, but that one still had limits. This brings me back to the same thought experiment I pitched last year. What will happen to our society when tools like CRISPR are perfected and every infectious disease we ever worried about is no more?

This isn’t some distant scenario either. There may very well be children alive today who will grow into a world where they never have to worry about diseases like AIDS, the flu, SARS, or hepatitis. Add in advances in contraception like Vasalgel and the possibilities become even more intriguing, not to mention sexy.


Again, don’t throw away your condoms just yet. CRISPR isn’t perfected just yet, but its potential is already clear. The days of the diseases that sex ed teachers have used to scare teenagers out of having sex are numbered. A world without infectious disease isn’t just possible. It’s very probable now. The question is are we ready for it?


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