Replace Annual Physicals with Real-Time Biomarker Monitoring

The annual physical exam is under fire. Increasingly, physicians believe that the yearly ritual of having our bodies poked and prodded is completely useless, save for the fraction of patients who have a chronic illness or predisposition to disease. Worse, the annual physical is estimated to cost our healthcare system approximately $8 billion for arguably little benefit. Read the rest at Scientific American.

Patent Judges Should Be Scientists, Too

Patents are the lifeblood of biotechnology, the force that motivates companies to develop innovative medical treatments and bring them to market. The trouble is that these patents must be enforced in a court system that isn’t set up to adjudicate highly technical matters—resulting in rulings that seem arbitrary or even scientifically suspect. Read the rest at the Wall Street Journal.

Mosquitoes, This Time It Is War

The Zika virus, which is spreading like wildfire throughout the Americas and is linked to a head-shrinking birth defect called microcephaly, is just the latest in a long list of mosquito-transmitted diseases that make the insects the world’s deadliest animal. It is time to launch a global initiative to eradicate them. Read the rest at USA Today.

Dr. Oz Hires a Clone to Be His ‘Fact-Checker’

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

There was a brief glimmer of hope that Dr. Oz had changed. In response to criticism that received national attention, the dangerous, money-grubbing quack who makes a mockery of medical science and pollutes our national airwaves issued a press release stating that he has hired Dr. Michael Crupain, who will be “responsible for researching and vetting scripts, evaluating expert guests, ordering and editing medical animations and overseeing liaisons with the show’s Medical Advisory Board. He will also lead efforts to enhance the show’s ongoing dialogue with the medical community.”

That job description is essentially for a fact-checker. Finally, facts matter to Dr. Oz. Right? Continue reading

How Yellowstone Revolutionized Biotechnology

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Life is capable of thriving in the most inhospitable places. The photograph above, which I took on my recent trip to Yellowstone National Park, shows Morning Glory Pool, a hot spring that is a short hike from Old Faithful. It’s named after the purplish-blue morning glory flower, but the pool no longer has that color, which was due to a particular type of thermophilic (heat-loving) microbe. That is because ignoramuses threw coins and other debris into the pool, blocking the vents and lowering its temperature, which allowed microbes of other colors to grow.

Continue reading

Solar Fuel: Converting Sunlight to Alcohol

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Solar power is billed as the energy of the future. However, today, solar power constitutes less than 1% of the global energy market. Though some cynics point their finger at a “Big Oil” conspiracy, the actual explanation for why solar power has remained such a disappointment is much more mundane. The reasons boil down to basic physics, economics, and impracticality. Continue reading

Sci-Fi Now Reality: Mind Control of Gene Expression

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Mind control — specifically, the ability to manipulate machines or the environment through the power of our thoughts — has long been the fascination of sci-fi enthusiasts. Now, a team of European researchers has made a giant leap toward turning this sci-fi fantasy into reality: They have demonstrated human mind control of gene expression in a mouse. And, they used some of the best tools of neuroscience, physics and synthetic biology to accomplish it. Continue reading

Will Propane-Making Bacteria Revolutionize Energy?

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Propane is the fossil fuel of red-blooded Americans. What poolside or tailgating experience would be complete without firing up the gas grill and torching some meat? (I know, I know… there are charcoal devotees out there.) Even metropolitan mass transit systems are getting in on the excitement. Fleets of buses that run on “LPG” (liquefied petroleum gas) are burning a mixture of propane and butane.

Currently, propane is extracted from natural gas or crude oil. But, in the long run, this is neither a sustainable nor an environmentally friendly practice. Burning propane extracted from the earth is also not carbon-neutral, though it is better than combusting oil or coal. Thus, researchers are looking for ways to produce renewable “fossil fuels” through the use of alternative technologies, such as synthetic biology. Last year, for instance, scientists engineered E. coli to churn out a biofuel that resembled gasoline. Continue reading

Biotechnology: A New Opium Pipe

SYNTHETIC biology—the technique of moving genes from creature to creature not one at a time, but by the handful—promises much but has yet to deliver. Someone who believes it can, though, is Christina Smolke of Stanford University. And, as she and her colleagues write in Nature Chemical Biology, they think they now know one way that it might. Read the rest at The Economist.