There are numerous protests about Trump. I was impressed by Michael Moore's call to action on his Facebook page --  creative dissent at its best and a template for the organizing of any other  kind of public protest. (From the Huffington Post)

Do These 10 Things, and Trump Will Be Toast


1. THE DAILY CALL: You must call Congress every day. Yes - YOU! 202-225-3121. It will take just TWO MINUTES! Make it part of your daily routine, one of those five things you do every morning without even thinking about it:

1. Wake up.

2. Brush teeth.

3. Walk dog (or stare at cat).

4. Make coffee.

5. Call Congress.

It is impossible to overstate just how much power you have by making this simple, quick DAILY CALL. I know from firsthand experience the impact it has. These politicians freak out if they get just 10 calls on an issue. Imagine them getting 10,000! Holy crap - the dome will pop off that building!

NOTE: if you're saying to yourself, "I don't need to call because my rep is a Democrat!" -- that is NOT true. They need to hear from you. They need to know they have your support. Don't believe it? Our beloved Sen. Elizabeth Warren voted in favor of Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development! I'm sure no one in Massachusetts thought they had to call her. YOU DO! She and the other Dems need to hear from the boss -- YOU! They work for us - and what boss doesn't have daily contact with his or her employees?

It's easy to make The Daily Call. To call your U.S. member of Congress or Senators in D.C., dial 202-225-3121 (or 202-224-3121 if busy). It's even better to call their direct line. For Senators, find each of their numbers here: For the direct line to your member in the House of Representatives:

Here’s some great news: Someone has created an app to make this very easy: Go to the App Store and get "5 Calls". The app will dial the friggin' phone for you and give you talking points for when you speak to your reps!

Here's what a sample week of your DAILY CALL can look like:

On Monday, call your Congressman/woman and tell them you do not want them to repeal Obamacare. In fact, you want them to improve it so that we have single-payer universal health care like all other "civilized" countries.

On Tuesday, call the first of your two U.S. Senators and tell him to vote NO on Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy. He couldn't even remember there was a Department of Energy - or what it did!

On Wednesday, call your other U.S. Senator. Demand she do everything in her power to block the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Thursday, call your local State House/Assembly representative in your state capital. Tell her you want the House to vote for legislation that prohibits the incarceration of nonviolent drug users.

On Friday, call your State Senator. Tell him you want him to support all efforts to reduce those activities which cause climate change.

If you’d rather to write to your reps, you can find the best way to do that for each of them here by typing in your address on:

I will post updates on the actions we're fighting for each day and week on my Twitter and Facebook pages. If you want to know what to call your reps about, I encourage you to follow me right now on Facebook at and on Twitter at @MMFlint. All my social media sites are at my website

Remember -- A call a day keeps the Trump away.

2. THE MONTHLY VISIT: To add even more pressure, SHOW UP! Your member of Congress has a local office in your town or somewhere nearby. So do both of your U.S. Senators (often in the nearest federal building). Go there and ask to speak to their aide about the issues we're facing (again, I will continually post them on my social media sites).

Also, don't forget to visit the local office (or the state capitol office) of your State Representative/Assemblyperson, and your State Senator.

And, if you're lucky to live within driving distance of Washington, DC, show up on Capitol Hill and pay an unannounced (it's legal!) in-person visit to your U.S. Senators and your Congressman/woman. They pay serious attention to this. It blows their mind that you'd drive that far to see them. Do it!

I know not everyone has the time to do THE MONTHLY VISIT -- but if you can, please do!

3. YOUR OWN PERSONAL RAPID RESPONSE TEAM: You and 5 to 20 friends and family members must become your personal RAPID RESPONSE TEAM. Sign everybody up so that when we need to leap into action (like we did at the airports the hour after Trump signed his Muslim Ban), you can email and text each other and make an instant plan. On other days, you'll share links to good investigative stories and TV news items. Come up with a name for your RAPID RESPONSE TEAM -- mine is called "The V for Vendetta Rapid Response Team" and it consists of myself, my daughter and son-in-law (and their new baby!); my two sisters, their spouses and adult children; my cousin; 8 friends; 6 co-workers; and my next door neighbor. That's 27 of us and we live from Seattle to Michigan to Maryland. And each of them are forming their own local Rapid Response Teams. So that means the 27 on my team are so far responsible 405 new Rapid Responders overnight! And each of those 405 are doing the same - they're recruiting their own 5-20 people - and BOOM! 4,050 more Rapid Responders tomorrow -- and growing!

4. JOIN! JOIN! JOIN!: We all know it's time for all of us to be part of a greater whole, so let's actually physically sign up online and JOIN some of our great national groups. I've joined Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America, and ERA Action. Some charge money to join, so if you don't have much, pick the lowest amount ($5 for ACLU for example) -- or join groups that don't charge anything (but if you can help them financially, please do). They will keep you informed of national actions and fight for us in court.

5. THE WOMEN'S MARCH NEVER ENDS: The historical, record-breaking January 21st Women’s March on Washington -- and the hundreds of other Marches that day across the US and the world, with over 4 million in attendance! -- brought massive numbers of people out who had never protested in their lives. It inspired millions of others and ignited so many local movements we still can't count them all. The day after the Women's March, another two dozen protests took place. The day after that, 2,000 Utahans jammed into their state capitol in Salt Lake City. Then, on the following Saturday, tens of thousands of Americans occupied their local airports to oppose Trump's Muslim ban. And on and on and on. Every day -- still! -- dozens of actions continue to take place as if the Women's March never ended. It hasn't. Join it!

I and a group of friends have set up THE RESISTANCE CALENDAR ( that is updated daily, where you can find out what actions are taking place near where you live. All you have to do is type in your city or state in the search bar.

It's critical that large numbers of us continue to march, protest, sit-in, and be very visible -- to Trump, so he knows we are the majority; to put the Dems on notice that we expect them to grow a spine; to our fellow Americans who live in Boise or Tulsa or Grand Rapids and have been feeling alone and afraid since the election. Our mass presence reminds them the people didn't elect Trump. And it is good for each of us to operate in concert with each other, to feel the solidarity and the hope.

And the official Women's March on Washington -- they've called for a national Women's Strike on March 8th. Let's join them!

6. TAKE OVER THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The old guard of the Party has twice in 16 years presided over the majority of Americans electing the Democrat to the White House -- only for us all to see the losing Republican inaugurated as President. How is it that we have won the popular vote in SIX OF THE LAST SEVEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS -- the Republicans have only won ONCE since 1988 -- and yet, we hold NO power in any branch of government?! That, plus losing 1,000 local seats in this election that the Dems use to hold -- plus watching many Dems in Congress unwilling to stand up to Trump -- PLEASE, the old leadership has to go. God love 'em for their contributions in the past, but if we don't enact a radical overhaul right now, we are doomed as far as having a true opposition party during the Trump era. And that, more than anything, will help to usher in the vice-grip of a totalitarian culture.

You must do two things:

1. Let the DNC know that THIS SATURDAY, February 25th, the Democratic National Committee MUST elect reform and progressive candidate, Congressman Keith Ellison, as the new DNC chair. Keith is a former community organizer, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and a key backer of Bernie Sanders. He not only has Bernie's support --and mine--but he's also backed by Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Gloria Steinem, John Lewis and many others. Sign his petition of support at Let the DNC know how you feel.

And locally, you need to start attending your county Democratic meetings. If possible, organize your friends and others and take over your local Dem organization. More on this at a later date.

7. HELP FORM BLUE REGIONS OF RESISTANCE: People keep saying to me, "Mike - I live in a Blue State - what can I do?" If you live in a Blue State, you have one of the MOST important tasks to complete: Show the rest of America what it looks like when Trump isn't in charge! Blue States and Blue Cities must do an end-run around Trump and create the America we want to live in. That means New York goes ahead and offers Free College for All. California can create its own Universal Health Care. Oregon can stop mass incarceration of African Americans. Hawaii can enact its own climate change laws. Blue States can show the rest of country how much better life can be. Important historical note: Before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, California and New York passed their own state laws to make it legal. This greatly helped pave the way for CHOICE being the new normal -- and the enactment of Row v. Wade.

8. YOU MUST RUN FOR OFFICE: I know, that's the LAST thing you want to do. But if we keep leaving the job up to the dismal, lame, pathetic political hacks who have sold us all down the river, then what right do we have to complain? This is only going to get fixed when you and I decide we are willing to put in our time -- even if it is a brief time -- and run for office. I ran when I was 18 and got elected. You can, too. We need good candidates for the 2018 elections -- and not just Congress and State Houses, but also school boards, city councils and county commissions. Why not take out a petition today and run next year? Heck, I'll bet I'll even support you!

I realize most of you can't do this -- but there is one office every one of us can and SHOULD run for next year: PRECINCT DELEGATE. Every precinct, every neighborhood can elect x-number of Dems to the county Democratic Convention. It's on the ballot and it's usually blank - no one runs for it. So the precinct delegates end up being appointed by the party hacks. And that's who ends up eventually at the national convention to pick the next presidential candidate. So this is an important position to run for. The time commitment is just 3 hours a year! You attend the county convention -- that’s it. Call your city or county clerk and find out how to get on the ballot. If you'll do it, I'll do it. It's the first step to making sure we put a candidate on the ballot who can win.

9. YOU MUST BECOME THE MEDIA: Stop complaining about the media, stop wishing they were something they're not, find the ones who are doing a good job and then start your own "media empire" by sharing their work and your work on the internet. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media sites to spread news and information. Make sure all your friends and family are signed up. Yes, I'm talking to you, Baby Boomers. Get over it, put down your postage stamps and your "TV clicker" and find a six-year old to show you how to start tweeting. You can be your own reporter, your own editor. You can curate the news for your friends. And now Facebook lets you have your own network with Facebook Live! It's all free. Get on social media now. Imagine, your own CNN is in the palm of your hand...

10. JOIN THE ARMY OF COMEDY: Trump's Achilles heel is his massively thin skin. He can't take mockery. So we all need to MOCK HIM UP! Not just the brilliant people at SNL or Colbert, Seth Myers or Samantha Bee -- but YOU. Use your sense of humor and share it with people. Get them to do the same. Keep sending around the SNL links spoofing Sean Spicer, Trump and Kellyanne -- there's no such thing as watching them too many times! Hahaha. I truly believe the final tipping point for Trump will be when he implodes from all the laughter -- the mocking, the unbearable ridicule of tens of millions of Americans that will discombobulate him and force him out of the White House. I know this seems like Mike’s fever dream, but I believe it can work. I don't know what happened to Trump in boarding school at 13 and I don't care. Whatever it was, let's use it. He's used all the other things he picked up over the years - misogyny, bigotry, greed - against the powerless and the unfortunate. It's time to laugh him outta town. And if there's one thing we all could use right now is a good laugh -- AND the possibility of a much-shortened presidential term.

So, there you go! The 10-Point Action Plan to Thump Trump. Something for everyone. And every one of us needs to do them. Please share this and spread the word. We can stop him. We can nonviolently block and obstruct halt the damage he's doing. But it's going to need -- and take -- ALL HANDS ON DECK!

Let's make Trump toast again.

-- Michael Moore


Genopolitics is the study of the genetic basis of political behavior and attitudes.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States could not pass without comment or analysis. The map above tells me that there was something more than politics going on — it is a map of fear. A threat felt by middle-America that the world is changing and that they are being left behind with no jobs and no future. This fear was fanned by Trump into the flight or fight response — a heritable conservative human trait -- hence genopolitics. Do liberals and conservatives think differently or have different brains — the answer is: YES.  (See previous posts: My Genes Made Me Do It).

There is something of a consensus regarding the genetic nature of human traits -- the so-called OCEAN classification -- Openness: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)  Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)  Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached)  Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident).  For more on this, see the previous posting on  Me, Myself and Us by Brian Little. Furthermore, specific studies on the political behavior of twins has shown that political affiliations are significantly influenced by genetics. Settle et al, showed "that heritability accounts for almost half of the variance in strength of partisan attachment, suggesting [that] we should pay closer attention to the role of biology in the expression of important political behaviors". 

What are the candidate genes? A round-up of the usual suspects: monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), the serotonin transporter (5HTT), the dopamine receptors (DRD2) and (DRD4). Using a genome-wide linkage analysis, it will be possible to identify other chromosomal regions associated with political attitudes. In particular, neuroscientific analysis has shown that in Liberal vs Conservative brains, there are differences in their amygdala, the part of the brain that makes emotional responses.  Research has shown that people’s whose basic emotional responses to threats are more pronounced,  develop ring wing opinions.

Liberal vs. Conservative: A Neuroscientific Analysis by Gail Saltz. Watch the first 4 minutes to get the gist of the analysis -- it is 15 minutes long.

Finally the Clinton campaign depended on genopolitics of the most fundamental kind — that women would vote for Hillary because they were women.


Developments around CRISPR have made it possible to tackle some interesting practical problems such as making NZ pest-free by using gene drive.

What is CRISPR? Watch the TED Talk below.

What is gene drive? An explanation of CRISPR and gene drive have been previously posted. It is a natural system used by bacteria to protect themselves against viruses and is now being used routinely in genetics as a tool in research.

Recently the Department of Conservation has set a target for New Zealand to become pest free by 2050. This includes mice, rats, stoats, rabbits and possums. This is very unlikely to be achieved using the conventional methods of poisons, diseases, traps, shooting or other such methods as pointed out by Professor John Knight in the article in the ODT 10/10/2016.

Gene drive is our best hope or worst fear? Part of the fear comes from the unknown.  What is required is a very extensive public education effort to explain to people what gene drive is, how CRISPR works and what are the ethical issues. For pest control the objective would be to produce only male offsprings and thereby control the population.

Being an island  nation, we are ideally situated to use this method — we have been bold with innovation before — here is our chance again.



Initially, I expected something of more depth from this book, but I ended up enjoying the book and the story telling style of Malcolm Gladwell.  He narrated the  Audilbe edition of his book ‘BLINK’. At times he was irksome with his repeated reference to the story of the buying of the Greek kouros by the Getty Museum. The blink referred to by Malcolm is that quick subconscious impression or decision we make about things for which we later find rational reasons to justify. 

Malcolm is not very familiar with recent developments in neuroscience and makes little attempt to drill deeper into the possible dynamics by which Blink might work. The subconscious remains unfathomable. He refers to it as ‘thin slicing’ and the ability of the mind to recognize patterns given the bare minimum of information. 

A better explanation of ‘thin slicing’ is given by the Nobel Prize winner (2011), Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. The fast system is intuitive, and emotional; the slow system is more deliberate, and more logical.

Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives―and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. 

Gladwell on the other hand taps into a deep mystical yearning to be healed by nature, Blink exploits popular new-age beliefs about the power of the subconscious, intuition, even the paranormal. Blink devotes a significant number of pages to the so-called theory of mind reading. While allowing that mind-reading can "sometimes" go wrong, the book enthusiastically celebrates the apparent success of the practice, despite many scientific studies showing that claims of clairvoyance rarely beat the odds of random chance guessing.

Gladwell does acknowledge that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. This is the key to the understanding of ‘thin slicing’, or Blink. The brain receives billions of bits of information and where possible it fits them into patterns, much like the ‘training data’ in machine learning —  the field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed (see previous post) -- the quality of the subconscious brain knowing without knowing. Also there would be the genetic bias as to how your brain works depending on what ‘traits’ you have (see previous post). 

In summary then, Blink is not that mysterious, but Malcolm Gladwell knows how to spin a good yarn

the urban monkThis is a review of the book The Urban Monk by Pedram Shojai -- in this case it was the Audible version which made it easy to listen to at sporadic intervals on my iPhone. This turned out to be a practice entirely in keeping with Pedram's approach to being an urban monk. The book is filled with practices that you can do while waiting for an appointment, being stuck in traffic or walking in the park. You can bookmark it, make notes or send extracts to your friends. The Urban Monk is designed to become your own personal trainer and companion in your day-to-day life and to bring peace to chaos.

It reminds me of the book by Robert Pirsig - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and his elaborate discussions on the  metaphysics of Quality -- a book I took on my world travels in the mid-70's.

Pedram received his Master’s in Oriental Medicine from Emperor’s College and then his OMD from the PanAmerican University. He's studied Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga, Meditation, and medicine diligently for the past 20+ years. He reveals the secrets to finding an open heart, sharp mind, and grounded sense of well-being, even in the most trying circumstances.

Here is a video clip with Pedram being interviewed by Jason Prall.

For those with a Taoist inclination, you may be interested in a blog post Pedram made in 2012.

We can’t learn meditation from a book or a series of workshops that teach us to focus our minds because true meditation happens OUTSIDE of the mind. When we allow our true nature to simply BE and let go of doing anything, we can slip into this realm of pure consciousness.

……. we can proceed to unlearn what is inhibiting us and actually grow in awareness. The essence of Taoist practice lies in this.

I highly recommend this book.

For The Urban Monk 7-Day Reboot  Course -- Click here.

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This book by Professor Brian Little is about the new science of personality psychology.

Ever since the ancient Greeks, human traits have been described and studied in different ways. We had the Greek four bodily humours which were: air (phlegmatic - relaxed and peaceful), black bile (melancholic - analytical and quiet) blood (sanguine - optimistic and social) and yellow bile (choleric - short-tempered and irritable). In more modern times we had the theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, who focused on subconscious forces, our dreams and our primordial sex drives.

In the mid-20th century the humanistic psychology of Carl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow flourished where scientific objectivity itself was seen as a barrier to understanding human nature. This was a prominent view of the New Age understanding of self and we have the Maslow pyramid of human needs (like a food pyramid!). They believed deeply in the human capacity both individually and collectively to shape our own futures. Scientific research did not match the rhetoric of this movement.

Today we have positive psychology — it explores factors that enhance individual lives, communities or nations. It is committed to a scientific analysis of personality psychology from neurons to narratives, from biochemistry to literary biography. The study of the human triats has been revitalised and there is a consensus among psychologists, namely — OCEAN — Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

In previous my posts - My Genes Made Me Do It - the genetic aspects of these traits were explored and along with their associated neurotransmitters. In Brian’s book these traits are seen as flexible points around which our psychology pivots balancing different aspects within each trait: Openness: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious); Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless); Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved); Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached); Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident).

Brian Little, who describes himself as an extreme introvert, provides a framework for thinking about the personal implications of this new science of personality psychology. Throughout the book there are mini-questionaries that facilitate self-exploration of ourselves and other selves and examines the biogenic, sociogenic and idiogenic factors that contribute to who we are. He illustrates how we function on a day-to-day basis using our personal constructs and following our ‘core projects’. We create a confederation of ‘mini-selves’ in our interactions with our spouse, our work colleagues. our children, our parents.

In the final chapter he summarises some of the main points in his book by evoking the image of  a dance -- “Save the Last Dance for Me”. Listen to the audio below.

As an aside: The OCEAN model has been criticised for not being theory-driven. It has been argued that it is a collection of data that has been clustered together for statistical descriptions of the observations. In this regard it reminds me of the previous posting on Machine Learning. A BIG Data analysis of observations without a theoretical basis or a predictive model of their underlying mechanisms. Another criticism is that the five factors are not independent of each other — are not fully orthogonal to one another. Furthermore the factor analysis is linear and does not capture nonlinear, feedback and contingent relationships between the individual differences. Finally there is lexical issue — the use of verbal descriptors for individual differences. The use of language creates sociability bias in verbal descriptors of human behaviour. For instance, there are more words in the language to describe negative rather than positive emotions. Still OCEAN seems to be the only game in town that is worth watching.

In summary: The book is an excellent read — I bought the Audible version - it is full of illustrative and witty stories about people that you would easily recognise. I highly recommend the book.

(For further information, visit:

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This is a brief review of the online course "Machine Learning Foundations: A Case Study Approach" from the University of Washington. I must disclose that although I worked through the examples in the course, I could not complete the assessments since I was not taking the course for credit.

The course was run by Carlos Guestrin, Amazon Professor of Machine Learning Computer Science and Engineering and Emily Fox, Amazon Professor of Machine Learning Statistics. Carlos is the co-founder and CEO of Dato, Inc (formerly GraphLab, Inc).

The ML (Machine Learning) blackbox used in the course was from GraphLab as well as the iPython Notebook programing language. These modules were downloaded to one's own computer which made it possible to play along and make coding mistakes. The fundamental modelling  design is illustrated in the diagram below -- using predicting house prices.


The examples used were:

  • Regression:  Predicting house prices
  • Classification:  Analyzing consumer sentiment
  • Clustering and Similarity:  Retrieving documents
  • Recommending Products
  • Deep Learning:  Searching for images

This course provided an excellent introduction into the world of machine learning. As the open source tools of ML become more sophisticated and easier to use, it opens the doors for anyone with an interest in data analysis or modelling for mind-blogging applications. Below is a video mashup of Carlos and Emily discussing the future of ML.

What is the bottom line about machine learning? It doesn't require any coding, it uses a tool-kit of statistical methods and the data is split into 'training data' and 'test data' where the training data is used to fit into a regression or a nearest-neighbor (or any other) statistic by iteration until there is convergence in the error and then this is evaluated by using the test data. The modelling is theory-free and only requires good data.

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The DNA genome and machine learning would seem like an unlikely partnership since one is embedded in the biological world and the other in artificial intelligence. However, in recent times the human genome has been used as ‘training data’ for machine learning and has been able to predict the phenotype (in this case facial appearance) to a remarkable degree. (Photo from Riccardo Sabatini’s TED talk)


How was this done and how was machine learning used? Machine Learning (ML) is a "Field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed". My expertise in machine learning is somewhat limited and comes from a Coursera online course Machine Learning Foundations: A Case Study Approach from the University of Washington. My understanding of the process is illustrated in the diagram below (which may be only conceptually correct)

Machine Learning

The phenotypic characteristics of the subjects were codified and a random set was used along with their DNA sequences for ‘training’ the machine learning (ML) model.  A predictive model was made.  A set of ‘testing’ subjects was put through the model to evaluate the predictions. Further tweaking’ of the model was made through more iterations until some prediction endpoint was reached. This project involved the coordination of a large number of people working on different machine learning modules.

Watch the interesting TED talk by Riccardo Sabatini

At the end of Riccardo’s talk, he raised the issue that the human genome should be everyone's concern — philosophers, politicians, artists, scientists, business people and ordinary citizens. In the closing remarks of  my previous blog — I raised the concern: that since we have by and large eliminated ‘selection’ from the process of biological evolution,  we as a species shall continue to accumulate mutations in our genome — something that occurs on a daily basis. We potentially face an evolutionary dead end unless we are willing to intervene and correct these genetic mistakes. Also are we ready to grapple with the thorny problem of improving our genetic makeup?

As a species do we face an evolutionary dead end?.

This is the last blog posting about the Coursera sessions:  Genes and the Human Condition - (University of Maryland) . The first blog post dealt with some of the fundamental concepts and progressed through to the state-of-the-art technologies. This blog  highlights some of the genetic advances already made and their implications for society. Below is a  laundry list of the topics covered:

  • synthetic biology —> the concept
  • 1st transgenic example — human insulin from E. coli
  • ‘Pharming’ - using crops or animals for producing vaccines or drugs
  • aquaculture - AquaAdvantage salmon
  • golden rice - vitamin A and iron
  • BioBricks - standardised genetic components that can be linked together into new combinations
  • Craig Venter and Synthia — synthetic life
  • BioHackers - weekend workshops
  • gene therapy - replacing faulty genes with functional genes
  • CRISPR technology
  • germline therapy — benefits and the risks

A mash up of the lectures for this session --  Professor St. Leger

In the closing remarks of this course, there was a plea for the public to become more informed about biotechnology and genetics. Otherwise the fears of the new developments such as synthetic biology will block the benefits of such research for our future. We have eliminated the selection pressure on the many mutations that have accumulated in our genomes and will continue to do so. We face an evolutionary dead end if we fail to address the genetic consequences of no selection.

If you think you are being surrounded by idiots, you are probably right. A leading Stanford University scientist, Gerald Crabtree, would confirm your view. His idea is that since individuals are no longer exposed to nature’s raw selection mechanism on a daily basis that nearly all of us are genetically compromised compared to our ancestors of 3,000 years ago.

This and the previous blog are notes from the Coursera: ’Genes and the Human Condition’, University of Maryland, lectures on “My Genes Made Me Do It”. What follows is from lecture 5.

Crabtree gives the following example: "If a hunter-gatherer did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food and shelter probably died along with his or her progeny. Whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would probably receive a substantial bonus and a be a more attractive mate". In other words, the consequences of being stupid were much worse in the Stone Age.

What is Self-domestication? - it is a process of transforming ourselves through self selection. What are some of the traits? We are selecting against aggression and favoring the juvenile behaviors  of trust, playfulness, and creativity. Both in brain size and physiology, we can be considered to be sexually mature baby chimps. This process is called paedomorphism, where the adult retains their infantile or juvenile features. Like most domesticated animals we have a smaller brain than our progenitors. Our brains have shrunk by about 20% in the last 10,000 years. The area that seems to have decreased in size is Area 13 which is the part of the limbic brain that establishes adult emotional reactions such as aggression.

Gerald Crabtree thinks we reached a peak in our intelligence about 7,000 years ago, but he doesn’t think our decline relates to our domesticating of ourselves. His argument is based on the idea that for more than 99% of human evolutionary history, we lived as hunter-gatherer article-crabtree-1112communities, surviving on our wits. However, since the invention of agriculture and cities and technology, natural selecting on our intellect has effectively stopped. He suggests that this has allowed mutations to accumulate in the genes involved in intelligence on average 25 - 65 per generation. He predicts the 5,000 new mutations in the last 120 generations, which is about 3,000 years, are the cause of our decline. He gives an interesting illustration: “I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues. Furthermore, I would guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues. I would also make this wager for the ancient inhabitants of Africa, Asia, India or the Americas, of perhaps 2000–6000 years ago. The basis for my wager comes from new developments in genetics, anthropology, and neurobiology that make a clear prediction that our intellectual and emotional abilities are genetically surprisingly fragile.”

In today’s world we compensate for having a smaller brain or a more mutated one by using computers and technology. We also have an education system that provides the supportive environment to allow what brain power that remains to attain its potential. Education allows those strengths to be rapidly distributed to all members of our society. What we need to do is educate Athenians.

For a mash up of the video from Coursera; Genes and the Human Condition, University of Maryland by Professor Raymond St. Leger -- see below: