Chinese Scientists Edit Embryonic Human Genome

A group of Chinese scientists have become the first to edit the genetic code in a human embryo. The study, which aimed to remove the gene responsible for the potentially fatal blood disorder β-thalassaemia, rewrote the genetic material – using a technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 – of ‘non-viable’ embryos that were incapable of producing life, with the scientists recognising the ethical implications of editing a human life prior to its birth.

The study, the results of which were published in online journal Protein & Cell, was led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at the Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou. Huang and his team injected 86 embryos with the CRISPR/Cas9 system and waited 48 hours for its molecules to react. 71 embyros survived the process, with each having grown by eight cells. 54 of those cells were genetically tested, of which 28 had successfully had their DNA rewritten to edit the HBB gene, responsible for β-thalassaemia.

“If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%,” Huang said. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”

George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at the Boston, Massachusetts Harvard Medical School, said of the study, “I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale. Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.”

The study was not without controversy, with science journal Nature and Science rejecting the paper due to ethical objections. Despite this, it is reported that four other studies into gene editing are underway in China.

Thank you nature for providing us with this information.

Samsung Reviews its Own Watch, Says its “Awesome”

It appears that Samsung is trying out some more of their outlandish marketing techniques.

The “most average editor” writing a review of the Gear S smart watch for the ‘Samsung Tomorrow’ company blog has come out with the bold statement that “as much as this may sound biased, Gear S is awesome.”

Now of course he isn’t impartial to the company that is paying him to write on their company blog, why would you even think that? Now enough of the sarcasm, this ‘review’ is purely a cleverly masked piece of marketing that may well dupe a few unsuspecting readers into thinking it is an objective and unbiased analysis of the product in question.

Not only is this alone an unethical way of presenting a product, undermining the hard work of reviewers like those here at eTeknix, Samsung is deceiving their ‘readers’ by falling incredibly short of their promise to be “clear and transparent”on ‘Samsung Tomorrow’.

Source: The Verge

Harvard University Secretly Tracked Attendance Using Cameras

The prestigious Harvard University has revealed it conducted an experiment using cameras to track attendance.

The experiment which used security cameras and custom software to analyse the number of empty seats in a lecture hall, was conducted without the consent of the 2000 students involved.

Unsurprisingly, this has prompted a backlash from those students, who have reacted not so positively to the notion that they were being spied on. While the cameras apparently couldn’t distinguish individual faces, it’s worth noting that none of the experiment’s participants had any way of opting out.

The researchers have defended themselves by noting that they did follow all the correct procedures, such as submitting the experiment’s plans to a review board and ensuring all the images taken were deleted by the end of the project.

The university has listened to the concerns however and is bringing the issue to an oversight committee, with the hope of preventing ethical issues like this in future experiments.

Source: Boston Globe

Image: tpsdave at Pixabay

Facebook’s Emotion Manipulation Study Angers Users

study was published recently showing that in January 2012, Facebook manipulated 689,003 members feeds to display a larger amount of positive or negative status updates. Running over a one week duration, this information was used to show that the moods of your friends on social media can affect your own mood positively or negatively on a day to day basis.

This manipulation has sparked outrage by some, claiming a lack of ethical practice – especially seeing as the ‘subjects’ were not notified of this study.

As far as legality is concerned, Facebook is in the clear as users agree to give up their data for analysis, testing and research upon sign up. However, the angered users aren’t claiming issues with the data collected, they’re upset that their feeds were manipulated without consultation.

Addressing the issue, a Facebook spokesman stated:

“This research was conducted for a single week in 2012 and none of the data used was associated with a specific person’s Facebook account. We do research to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible. A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow. We carefully consider what research we do and have a strong internal review process. There is no unnecessary collection of people’s data in connection with these research initiatives and all data is stored securely.” The Atlantic

Adam D.I Kramer (being one of the studies authors and a Facebook employee) gave his thoughts through a comment on a public Facebook status:

“And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it,” he writes. “Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. […] In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.” The Atlantic

So although Facebook users do agree to share their information, technically they aren’t in agreeance with the alteration of their data (in this case, news feeds).

Susan Fiske, a Princeton University psychology professor helped edit this study also shared some thoughts on the issue:

“It’s ethically okay from the regulations perspective, but ethics are kind of social decisions. There’s not an absolute answer. And so the level of outrage that appears to be happening suggests that maybe it shouldn’t have been done…I’m still thinking about it and I’m a little creeped out, too.” The Atlantic

Facebook has been rumored to partake in data manipulation studies like this more often than you may think. Should this access of data make you worried? Honestly the general population aren’t going to batt an eyelid, as long as they can access their fair share of recycled memes and baby photos.

Image courtesy of Post Grad Problems