Category SunSpots blog

It’s a Magical World

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m writing this post on a computer. No, that’s not the secret. The secret is, I really have no idea how it does what it does. I know that when I press a key on my keyboard, a letter appears on the screen. And it’s always the right letter, unless I pressed the wrong key.

Image by Monkey Business Images. Used by permission. (That’s not me, by the way.)

I roll the trackball around with my thumb and the pointer zips across the screen. I know there are sensors that detect the reflections of the laser lights shining on the trackball to reveal its movement, and somehow, what they detect gets translated into commands to move the pointer. But how?

My smartphone takes still and video pictures, helps me keep track of my expenses, tells me the time and the ...

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If Genetic Engineering Could Cure Your Child, Would You Use It?

Last time, I wrote about how gene therapy is being used to fix certain kinds of errors in DNA, and so cure or significantly reduce certain kinds of cancers. I asked whether you would accept such a treatment for yourself.

It’s one thing to accept the risks that are associated with these still new and experimental treatments, but would you make that decision for a sick child—one of your children?

Little boy in hospital

© Suthisa Kaewkajang | Dreamstime.com

Current Treatments

I didn’t make a point of it last time, but two of the diseases for which this kind of gene therapy is now available, B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and junctional epidermolysis bullosa (“butterfly skin”), are both childhood diseases...

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If Gene Therapy Could Save Your Life, Would You Take It?

Late last year, Science News magazine published an article about how scientists used genetic modification to save the life of a young boy. He had a skin condition in which the upper layer of his skin would blister and separate from the layers underneath if he was just touched or rubbed gently. Children with this condition are called “butterfly children” because their skin “is as fragile as butterfly wings.” At the time of his treatment, the boy had lost 80% of his skin and was close to death.

Replacing a gene

Photo by Andrianocz, via Dreamstime.com

People with this condition have a mutation in one of three genes. The doctors identified which one was the problem for this child, took a section of good skin, and used a retrovirus to insert good copies of the bad gene into the skin cells...

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Would You Accept a Pig-Grown Human Organ Transplant?

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s heart-breaking novel Never Let Me Go, human clones are raised so their organs can be harvested for transplantation when the clones are teenagers. The novel is set in a dystopian alternate-history version of 1990s Great Britain. Fast-forward twenty years, however, and a different scenario is edging closer to reality: human-compatible organs grown in pigs.

Human kidney

Photo by Luuuusa via Dreamstime.com

A recent Science News article reported that Americans generally support genetically engineering animals in ways that would aid human health. The article is based on a Pew Research Center study done in April and May of this year. (Pew is a highly-respected opinion research organization that conducts surveys on a wide range of topics.)

The study asked “a nationally representative samp...

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Open Mic Night!

On Friday, August 17th, I had the privilege of being the “spotlight author” at the monthly Open Mic Night at Broxton’s Coffee in Sierra Vista, AZ, sponsored by the Cochise Community Creative Writing Celebration. During my time in the spotlight, I talked about how my books, The Eternity Plague and Chrysalis, came to be, read the full opening scene from The Eternity Plague and a condensed version of the opening scene from Chrysalis, and then answered questions from the audience. The first half-hour or so of the event (all of my portion) was broadcast on Facebook Live too.

If you’d like to watch the video, you have three choices. The shortest version contains only my part of the event. It runs just over 21 minutes.

The medium length version includes organizer Beth Orozco’s opening comments...

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Science Education: Medicine and the Citizen

In the past few weeks, I’ve been hit with a number of medical issues. None were life-threatening but they were enough to really catch my attention. In addition, a friend did have a life-threatening condition—her kidneys failed—for which she’s now in treatment (dialysis). In my calmer moments, that got me thinking about how ordinary citizens interact with medicine beyond their own doctor’s office, including how the press covers medical research news.

ConfusionEggs are bad for you, right? No, wait, they’re good!

Need to lose weight? Which diet should you use: Atkins, paleo, Mediterranean, plant-based? They’re all based in science, aren’t they?

If you consume too much of such-and-such chemical, your chance of getting Cancer X will go up by 250%...

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Science Education: Experiential Learning