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The Human Genome

Date: 07-05-10
Host: George Noory
Guests: Victor McElheny, Mitch Battros

During the middle two hours, science journalist Victor McElheny (book link) discussed the history of the Human Genome Project, and the implications of what has, is, and will happen as we understand what the human genome is telling us.

McElheny recalled being in attendance at a 1986 biology conference when the Human Genome Project was first seriously discussed. He noted that some of the scientists in attendance were aghast at the prospects of the venture. "They saw their money getting swallowed up in a big biology project," he mused. Ironically, he said, the concept was supported by the older scientists and vehemently opposed by their younger colleagues, who were skeptical of the potential of the project. Compounding the institutional intrigue, the Department of Energy pushed to develop the Human Genome Project, since it had the technological resources to undertake the venture. However, the National Institute of Health was troubled by the prospect of losing control over the "future of biology" and fought to be a part of the project, despite the reservations of "several key people" in the institution.

In detailing some of the benefits of genomics, McElheny explained that deciphering a person's genetic code could help in both diagnostic medicine as well as ongoing treatments. For instance, the disease Muscular Dystrophy is an ailment that often has a detrimentally late diagnosis in children. However, he said, "in the future, we can use the genomic knowledge to find out a lot earlier" and thus quickly begin treatment. Additionally, McElheny pointed out that, in contemporary medicine, cancer treatments and blood thinners are highly dependent on the patient's genetic disposition. Knowing this information in advance, he said, would allow for the elimination of the rigorous guesswork that goes into determining proper treatments. "These are real, daily, nitty gritty medical issues that have genetics written all over them," he marveled.

The final hour of the program was devoted to Open Lines.

On the Ground at the Gulf Coast

In the first hour, earth changes expert Mitch Battros provided some first-hand perspective on the Gulf oil disaster. Having just visited the region, Battros observed that the mood in the area is "not good, it's scary" and, to the citizens of the area, "it is devastating and personal." He recalled seeing a number of "Don't Tread on Me" flags on display during the 4th of July holiday weekend and that the residents are drawing parallels to the American Revolution, feeling that the United States is being "disrespected" by British Petroleum. Tying the disaster to Earth changes, Battros warned that fluid displacement, from the massive amounts of oil leaking out of the ground and into the Gulf, could result in major earthquakes. He pointed to a window of time, lasting two weeks before and after the July 11th solar eclipse, as a particularly worrisome time frame.

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Solving the Flying Submarine

It's a project that has been unsuccessful for over 70 years, but the Pentagon has renewed hopes of creating a craft that can operate in both the air and underwater as well as transition between both states. Since an airplane and a submarine have conflicting design needs, engineers are looking in unorthodox areas, like the animal kingdom, to solve the riddle of how to create such a dual-element craft. More on the story can be found at New Scientist.

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Bumper music from Monday July 05, 2010

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