Regulating New Organisms

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1. A Department of Energy-funded report by the. J. Craig Venter Institute finds that the way the USDA APHIS program regulates genetically modified plants might not work in the future

"Genetically engineered organisms are increasingly being developed in ways that leave them outside of APHIS’ authority to review, and synthetic biology will accelerate this trend. Currently, APHIS’ oversight depends on whether plant pests or some component of a plant pest is used to engineer the plant. These regulations covered almost all plants made using older genetic engineering techniques, but will not apply to plants engineered using several of the newer techniques. This shift will leave many engineered plants without any regulatory review prior to their cultivation in the environment for field trials or commercial production."


2. Fun, profiley take on wearable technology through Chris Harrison's Carnegie Mellon lab.

"'Think about the natural ways you use your hands,' he begins as he launches a homespun app called Touch Tools. 'Grasps, for example, are really iconic. How I hold a pen is very different from how I hold a dry eraser.' Pinching his middle and index fingers and thumb together as if clutching an invisible stylus, he touches the screen with his fingertips. The gesture brings up an image of a ballpoint pen, which he uses to draw a doodle. He then widens his grip about an inch, summoning a pink rubber eraser. He erases his scribble. 'So I don’t need tool bars—I just change the shape of my hand,' he says. He conjures a tape measure, using his other hand to extend the tape. Then comes a magnifying glass, a mouse, a camera."


3. It's not that there is one vast bubble, it's that there are some mini bubbles in ... less than worldchanging areas

"Restaurants and food-related businesses aren’t prototypical venture capital investments, but VCs are showing a strong appetite. Since April last year, at least 15 companies that home-deliver restaurant meals have been funded... according to Dow Jones VentureSource."


4. How a neurologist's collection of photographs of mental patients shaped Darwin's thinking

"Crichton-Browne’s photographs, all half-length portraits, attempted to capture the afflictions of his patients; to record the facial expressions of all sorts of manias for the purposes of scientific observation and diagnosis. The results were a strange kind of family album: a group of now-anonymous patients committed to Crichton-Browne’s care stares blankly into the camera’s lens; their expressions are fixed, their faces twisted into a record of their extreme emotional afflictions. Darwin’s meditations on the photographs—guided by Crichton-Browne’s own observations—had a profound impact on the naturalist’s thinking about the physical manifestations of natural selection. The two men exchanged letters for nearly six years, trading books and photographs and sharing observations on the anatomy of blushing, the physiology of expression, and the mechanics of hair bristling. Most importantly, the men shared an almost zealous faith in photography’s ability to correct the imperfect observations made by the human eye."


5. It is probably impossible to prepare for a nuclear war, but countries (in this case, India) keep trying

"We may then have to turn to the offices of the J&K Police Civil Defence and State Disaster Response. In 2013, during border-hostilities that led to the decapitation of an Indian jawan (the violation raised by Gadkari on Saturday), the agency placed an ad in the daily Greater Kashmir, advising residents to prepare for a possible nuclear blast. (Odd, since both countries claim Kashmir intact.) 'People should construct basements where the whole family can stay for a fortnight,' read the advisory, which might have been composed by an officer on secondment from the tourism department. It further suggested keeping stores of canned food and bottled water, to help radiation-refugees stay below ground as long as possible. Last, it warned them to expect, after the blast, 'some initial disorientation, as the blast wave may blow down and carry away many prominent and familiar features.'"

+ From a new newsletter about science, technology, and India, Curious Bends.


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

bookmaker In US the professional bet-taker has appropriated this word so completely that the maker of books has virtually abandoned it. It is still used occasionally (derog.) of a mechanical compiler of books.


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Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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