The return of the phage! GMO phage.

Antibiotic resistance is racing through the world and a growing number of pathogens are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Even worse, extreme drug resistance is growing where the pathogen is resistant to all known antibiotics. An increasing number of such cases end in death. 

It is not just about diseases like drug resistant tuberculosis. A simple finger cut infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria can result in amputation of the arm or death. Such pathogens have started spreading within hospitals and the victims are usually patients who have undergone surgery.

Since 1919, even before antibiotics were discovered, phages have been used to treat diseases. Phages are viruses that kill the bacteria. For every known bacterium, there is some type of phage out there which feeds on the bacteria and kills it.

The amazing effectiveness of antibiotics ensured that the use of phages stopped and disappeared. No further research happened on phages.

Now, it appears that not only can we fight drug resistant bacteria with naturally occurring phages, we can also genetically engineer phages to target any specific kind of bacteria. As this article suggests –

Now this is GMO research even the environmentalists should welcome!

I now hope that phages research progresses rapidly and phage based solutions become widely available before antibiotic resistant diseases ravage our planet and hundreds of millions of people die. This scary scenario is now inevitable unless we figure out new ways of curing antibiotic resistant disease.

Is the Indian government hesitant or too scared to act?

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France has taken firm legal and regulatory action, to  ensure that Facebook, WhatsApp and others are held responsible for hateful content on their networks.

I argue that India faces the biggest social and political problems from uncontrolled sharing of hate speech on social media platforms. Specifically, on WhatsApp and Facebook.

The Indian Government has recognised this and has been asking Facebook and WhatsApp to take action. But the government of India has been too timid and has not put its foot down.

India must hold these networks responsible to stop the sharing of hate speech and fake news on their networks. They must face very heavy fines for each instance and must open up their encrypted networks and identify originators to law enforcement agencies. If they refuse to cooperate, they must stop operations in India.

Moralistic vs Consequentialist thinking

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Liv Boeree – World Champion Poker Player. Liv endorses consequentialism in her interview with Tim Ferriss

Consequentialist thinking is basically that the  consequences of your actions are far more important than the actions themselves!

We now live in an age where we have access to more data and information to understand the consequences of our actions. Consequentialists therefore say that our ethics and moral rules must be guided by our knowledge of the consequences.

I disagree for two reasons –

1. This kind of “greater good” thinking has resulted in some of the biggest disasters and human tragedies that the world has seen. From Stalin to Mao and worse. Consequentialist values lead to the pursuit of poor consequences by morally twisted individuals. We are all better off with a widespread and common understanding of basic values (morals?). For example – non-violence or inclusiveness 

2. We overestimate our ability to interpret data and understand the consequences. If all of us were good at it, we would all bet the same way and on the same horses. Consequences are usually expressed in the form of probabilities and not absolutes. And it is human nature to not only get the probabilities wrong, but also to bet against the best probabilities.

A brain dead person may not be dead after all!

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Reviving dead pig brains means only one thing from an ethics standpoint and that concerns the definition of human death.

If a person’s breathing stops, is he dead? We now know he is not and that he can be put on a ventilator.

If a person’s heart stops, is she dead? We know that it is not true because hearts can be revived and hearts can be transplanted as well.

Pig brains have thrown up a conundrum for us.

Theranos and Napster ?

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The fall of Theranos did not wipe out the pin prick diagnostics industry.

On the contrary, it is much like Napster, which went down but laid the foundation for the enormous disruption of the music industry. 

Napster showed the way and the opportunity for download and streaming services and today’s music industry owes much to the fact that Napster existed when it did. Apple, Spotify and so much more…

Theranos, similarly showed how big the market is and investor interest is for successful, edge of the network diagnostics.

So now we have many more companies doing very interesting work in the space. The diagnostics industry is going to see significant disruption. 

Much of the diagnostics technologies, labs and methods of today are going to be replaced in the next decade. They will be replaced by superior technologies, devices, tests, at the edge of the network and at much lower costs.

Pseudoscience in school textbooks

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The mainstreaming of Pseudo Science is an unfortunate fall out of the politics in the last few years.

Just as we have the creationists in the US who do not recognise evolution (among other things), we are breeding our own versions of crackpots who see science in myth and see evidence of advanced technology in the mythology of relatively primitive times.

Nothing wrong with the crackpots. They are very entertaining.

The problem is when their theories (alternative facts?) start appearing in school textbooks.

Parents must watch out for such things in school text books and point them out to their children. Get them scientific international reading material that makes the children question everything and not blindly believe anything they see in their textbooks.

Let’s teach our children to not unquestioningly believe their text books or their teachers. They must ask their teachers and get sensible answers. They must learn to check credible alternative sources of information (books and online) and challenge the fake news, myth and fake science.

Blind obedience and belief in the guru is not a virtue in school children. It’s a damaging and stupidly outdated concept. It will be a handicap for them in tomorrow’s job market. 

Look at all the fake stuff floating around in WhatsApp groups and many of your friends actually believing them and forwarding them! Do you want your children to grow up to be like those ignorant simpletons?

Culturing cancer cells on a chip

Reference article –

This technology could work not just for glioblastomas. 

Therapies could be tried on various cancers and cellular diseases on a chip to see what works and what does not.

Tissue Culture Diagnostics 2.0, which enables us to culture abnormal human cells in a chip outside of the body and test drugs and other combination therapy on them.

I suspect the biggest leveraged gains from this technology will come from using it for research to identify new, effective therapies.

Green revolution and crop diversity

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Industrialised agriculture, combined with the packaged food industry have distorted quite a few of our behaviours.

Not all of it is bad. After all, the days of famines and starvation are over.

We are able to feed a global population that is many times larger than what it was in 1920.

Changes of this scale have negative effects as well.

Now it is time to fix them.

An explosion of new species is just around the corner

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The consequences of democratised access to gene editing technology is certainly one of the biggest issues we will grapple with in the next 3 to 4 decades.

Nessa Carey believes that consensus is the only way to manage the risks. I do not agree at all.

There is a reason why consensus works for nuclear weapons but it does not for meth labs.

When everyone has access, it is too complex to deliver consensus or control.

The cat is out of the bag and an explosion of human engineered organisms is around the corner.

I am not sure how this can be avoided. I have not heard of any theories that make sense.

I am also concerned that while there is a lot of talk nowadays about the threats to humans from Artificial General Intelligence, why is there not much talk about the threat from garage engineered plants, microorganisms and possibly even insects, reptiles and mammals.

It takes a lot of money and resources to build complex AI. CRISPR on the other hand, can be used by practically anyone.

Your kitchen gas is dirty fuel

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Indoor air pollution is as big a killer as outdoor air pollution.

There are several reasons for high indoor air pollution. One of them is the so called “clean fuels” in the kitchen.

People mistakenly believe that LPG gas stoves is “clean fuel” and “non polluting”. This notion is false.

Lighting up an LPG stove in your kitchen is like running a petrol vehicle engine in your kitchen. I would argue that the vehicle is less polluting because it is Bharat Stage V compliant and has filters that clean up the exhaust gases. The gas stove has no such thing!

Please ensure that your kitchen has a powerful chimney plus exhaust fan and that it is working well. It must be used every time the gas stove is switched on.