What I'm Reading (Mar. 11)

By Chuck Dinerstein, MD, MBA — Mar 11, 2021
Is aging just a matter of miscommunication? Should we have National Oceans, like the National Parks? Is a virus like COVID-19 alive, or is this just the zombie apocalypse? Would the Sierra Club allow genetic modification of a tree to save them?
Image courtesy of succo on Pixabay

“Conrad Hal Waddington became recognized as the last Renaissance biologist. This largely had to do with his idea of an “epigenetic landscape”—a metaphor he coined in 1940 to illustrate a theory for how organisms might regulate which of their genes get expressed in response to environmental cues or pressures, leading them down different developmental pathways. It turned out he was onto something: Just a few years after coining the term, it was found that methyl groups—a small molecule made of carbon and hydrogen—could attach to DNA, or to the proteins that house it, and alter gene expression.

…DNA methylation changes throughout a cell’s lifespan.”

Can aging be nothing more than an increasing failure for cells to communicate with one another effectively? From Nautil. Us, Aging Is a Communication Breakdown

“Yet even in the face of our growing global appetite, Western scientists have begun to realize what Pacific Islanders knew all along. To sustain the ocean's life, and our own, we must set aside sanctuaries where fishing is limited or banned. The International Union for Conservation of Nature says that to protect biodiversity, rebuild fisheries, and survive climate change, we need to set aside 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. Our best hope for conserving what’s left of marine life, in other words, is to build a global network of protected areas like those that Pacific Islanders created and managed for centuries.”

I believe it is difficult to argue our National Parks' value, setting aside large areas for our communal good. This article suggests the same be applied to the oceans, the source of all life and a place we will increasingly need to feed the humans of this world. From Natuil. us, The New Taboos

“Scientists have been arguing over whether viruses are alive for about a century, ever since the pathogens came to light. Writing last month in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, two microbiologists at University College Cork named Hugh Harris and Colin Hill took stock of the debate. They could see no end to it. “The scientific community will never fully agree on the living nature of viruses,” they declared.

The question is hard to settle, in part because viruses are deeply weird. But it’s also hard because scientists can’t agree on what it means to be alive.”

Carl Zimmer takes on the issue of what scientific criteria we use to consider something alive. As with many other matters, COVID-19 has again raised an unsettled concern. It can’t reproduce by itself, so is it alive? Is the pandemic a zombie apocalypse? From the New York Times, The Secret Life of a Coronavirus

“Here is where things get messy. In 1996, while Powell was cracking chestnuts to fish out diminutive embryos, American agrochemical company Monsanto introduced the Roundup Ready soybean, a transgenic plant modified with a bacterium strain that rendered it immune to glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide—followed by several other Roundup Ready crops. In the years since, transgenic plants have faced public resistance in the United States and abroad, and some environmental groups—including the Sierra Club—have opposed the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

But those transgenics have all been commercial ventures. Darling 58's genome has been altered in the name of restoration. There are no plans to establish timber plantations or turn a profit, which ought to make it less objectionable for some.”

Blight destroyed the chestnut tree; can genetic engineering bring it back? And can conservation groups that oppose genetically modified plants get behind saving the tree. From Sierra, the national magazine of the Sierra Club, The Demise and Potential Revival of the American Chestnut

Chuck Dinerstein, MD, MBA

Director of Medicine

Dr. Charles Dinerstein, M.D., MBA, FACS is Director of Medicine at the American Council on Science and Health. He has over 25 years of experience as a vascular surgeon.

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