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Scientists Map Out Entire Genetic Code of Iceland

In the uniquely homogenous nation, some see great promise for disease prevention, others worry about privacy.

Norsemen landing in Iceland, by Oscar Wergeland. Most of Iceland's population descends from a relatively small group of settlers, making this kind of genetic testing uniquely feasible.

Late last month, researchers out of Iceland announced that they’d made a major leap in the field of genetics: They’d mapped the entire genetic code of their nation, the largest genomic study ever. This project, detailed in four interconnected papers in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature Genetics, was the culmination of 18 years of work by deCode, a local private research company (purchased by California’s Amgen after declaring bankruptcy in 2009). And according to these papers, the firm’s research isn’t just cool in abstract. As a roadmap for further studies, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we develop and target medical treatments, from drugs to surgical interventions.

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Scientist Claims Head Transplants Are Just Two Years Away

Can we really attach a head onto a new body? Despite ethics concerns, one researcher says “yes.”

Photo by HauntingVisionsStock via DeviantArt

An Italian scientist is once again in the news for his efforts to make head transplants—that’s right, attaching a human head to a new body—a reality in the very near future. On Wednesday, New Scientist reported that Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group would launch his Frankensteinian project at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons. At the meeting, Canavero will recruit like-minded scientists and spread the gospel of his new technique, published earlier this month in the journal Surgical Neurology International. In the paper, fantastically titled, “The ‘Gemini’ spinal cord fusion protocol: Reloaded,” Canavero gives a broad outline of how the surgery could be successful, despite the widely-noted problems of fusing the spine and keeping the host body from rejecting the new noggin. The New Scientist describes the process, which Canavero believes can treat patients with certain forms of paralysis or failing organs:

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A Plan to Save the Earth That Might Kill Us All

All it requires is billions of sunlight-reflecting particles, a time commitment of centuries, and not taking the phrase ‘moral hazard’ too seriously.

Photo by Max Lopez via DeviantArt

Two weeks ago, the US National Academies of Sciences (NAS) released a two-volume tome on geoengineering, a set of high-tech ideas that aim to alter the climate and thereby soften the brunt of climate change's blow. In the report, the 16 scientists who authored the project (which was partially financially backed by the CIA) conspicuously rebranded these controversial geoengineering activities as “climate intervention.” The name change to “intervention” from “engineering” connotes that the technique employs all the unpredictability of jumping between two inebriated yahoos duking it out in a fistfight and none of an engineer’s precise know-how. Though the report argues for more research on certain geoengineering practices, critics warn of unintended consequences, pointing to the unexplored moral, ethical, and philosophical quandaries such globe-altering technologies might produce.

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What's the Value of a Human Life? Don't Hold the Elevator

Two friends discuss whether it’s selfish to act nice.



Years ago, my good friend Misha Glouberman and I ran a lecture series together called Trampoline Hall, at which amateurs speak on random subjects in a bar. He was the host, and I picked the lecturers and helped them choose their topics. I was interested in finding people who were reticent, rather than showy people who wanted an opportunity to perform. People lectured on many things: The number 32, getting a liver transplant, why we shouldn’t climb Mount Everest, Jews at Christmas.

After three years of working on the show, I quit, but Misha kept it running. A few years later, though, I realized I missed working with him, so I decided I would write a novel called The Moral Development of Misha. I got about 60 pages into the story of a man who wandered the city, who was nervous about his career and his life, yet was a force of reason in any situation. The writing stalled, however, when I couldn’t figure out how to develop him morally.

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Murdoch's PR Problem: Two Experts Do Damage Control

After the News of the World scandal, Murdoch's other outlets need to assure us they're legit. Experts tell us how.


When the news got out that Rupert Murdoch's British paper News of the World had illictly hacked into cellphones, the paper folded and people called for a boycott of the gargantuan Murdoch empire. Unfortunately, as we mentioned last week, the latter is nearly impossible given how many outlets fall under the umbrella of News Corporation's media conglomerate. Some of them, including Fox News and the New York Post, aren't exactly known for their ethics, but others are highly respected, especially the venerable Wall Street Journal.

Just because a major boycott isn't likely, that doesn't mean the public is feeling warm and fuzzy toward News Corporation. The media company has a major PR problem on their hands, a scandal that goes beyond an isolated incident and delves into huge issues of press regulation and media standards. How can News Corp make us feel better about consuming its products, if even its own CEO seemed to have no idea how the company is run? I solicited advice from experts on how outlets like the Journal can win back the public's trust.

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Food for Thinkers: The Grand Finale

Recipes for transgenic foods, the ethics of cyborg Jainism, lunar agriculture, and Harry Potter at the farmers' market: food for future thinkers.


On the principle of going out with a bang, rather than fading away, I present, with a drumroll, the Food for Thinkers Grand Finale.

First up is Zackery Denfeld at the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, whose post describes using "the lens of cuisine to investigate transgenic foods."

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