Enter Fun CRISPR Backronym Contest: $50 Prize

CRISPR backronym contestUpdate: you can also enter our contest on Twitter using the hashtag #CRISPRback.

Do you like contests, words, science, and cash?

Enter our new contest.

It’s a backronym contest for CRISPR.

The author of the best backronym will win a $50 prize paid by me and fame of course as the winner.

The judges will be WSJ columnist Ben Zimmer, Senior Editor at MIT Tech Review Antonio Regalado, and myself.

A backronym is like an acronym, but flipped around in the sense that you choose words to fit the existing letters that together make up an existing acronym word. For more backronym background check out Ben’s recent excellent piece on CRISPR.

Wikipedia lists some funny examples including NASA’s COLBERT treadmill and Arby’s creating “Amerca’s Roast Beef, Yes Sir!” after it already had the name Arby’s, chosen for some other reason.

CRISPR is already an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

But that’s a mouthful, not very fun and tough to try to remember.

So what if CRISPR didn’t really stand for those complicated words “Clustered…etc etc”? What if each word of CRISPR was memorable and together they made some interested meaning?

In that spirit, make a backronym for CRISPR by choosing clever new words for C, R, I, S, P, and R.

For instance, as a backronym CRISPR could stand for one of these:

  • Creative Reinterpretations In Scientific Public Relations
  • Can Researchers Initiate Sane Patent Rules

Update: Or it could be something more scientific.

Fire away by sending your CRISPR backronyms to me at [email protected] or leaving them here on this blog post as a comment. The backronym entries must be original and not offensive.

The deadline is a week from today on February 15th at midnight pacific time.

A new possible environmental disaster: the gene spill

New genetic modification technology such as CRISPR-Cas9 has opened the door to transformative biological research, but it has also set the table for some novel kinds of technological problems for which we aren’t at all prepared including one that I call the “gene spill”.

The striking potential upsides to CRISPR paired with some of the serious risks such as gene spills leave us with dilemmas over things like gene spills.
We want to advance the technology, but how do we lower risks?

Gene spill

We should be very concerned about the possibility that a self-propagating genetic modification could end up out in the real world via a technology called “gene drive” in such a way that it spins out of control. That would be a gene spill.

We humans will have unprecedented power to genetically modify our world and change ecosystems via gene drive in ways that could be essentially permanent. For instance on the positive side, via intentional use of gene drive we could make it much harder for humans to get malaria or Zika from mosquitoes or other diseases with insects, which might also be prevented from damaging crops. At the same time gene drive could lead to genetic changes in our world and in ourselves in ways that are very negative or that could spiral out of control.

Via gene drive, researchers are likely going to be able to genetically modify entire real world populations of organisms in certain areas. However, these self-spreading gene drives have the chance to cause serious negative consequences.

Gene drive could also “escape” unintentionally. Gene drive organisms that are the focus of research in the lab might escape and genetically modify their brethren in the wild, or there could be horizontal transfer to other species.

Whether intentional or accidental, the eventual presence of gene drive organisms in the wild could pose profound risks and the only likely possible way to mitigate ecological disaster would be through trying to wipe out all members of a species in an effected area.

Think of a gene drive out of control in the wild as akin to an invasive species that can robustly promote its own replication and genetically modify other organisms. This sounds like something out of sci-fi, but it is really quite possible.

These gene spills, while not as visually evident as something like an oil spill, could cause equal or greater harm. Gene spills could also occur even in humans due to terrorist activity through weaponized genetic elements or simply accidentally through research gone astray.

Is the presence of a gene drive out in the wild inevitable?

I hope not.

If not, then the best action we can take now is to try to prevent that from happening through further education and discussion of options. If gene spills are inevitable or nearly so, then we should be more actively researching contingency plans and such research should be funded by NIH, DARPA, etc. Some research in this area is already ongoing and some are talking about how it could simple to reverse problems. Stay tuned for a follow up piece on the simple reversal idea and why the narrative on that has been potentially harmful.

Stem cell snake oil for sale at Nordstrom, Amazon, & Ebay?

stem cell microneedlingStem cells are exotic things ensconced away in biomedical research labs, right?

Well, maybe not entirely so these days.

It turns out that you can try to sell products for a lot of money by slapping “stem cells” on the label.

Take Nordstrom’s.

It has 80 stem cell products available online. These cosmetic products range in price up to $850 for the priciest one, ‘Bee Venom & Placenta’ 24 Carat Gold Ultimate Crème from Rodial.

These kinds of things are for sale despite an FDA takedown of L’Oreal/Lancome for iffy “stem cell” cosmetic products a few years back.

This Rodial cream is described this way: “Rodial Bee Venom & Placenta 24 Carat Gold Ultimate Crème is an exquisite, rejuvenating moisturizer with melittin peptide, liquid gold, stem cells and biomimetic growth factors from placenta.”

What a combo, huh?

The most expensive stem cell item on E-bay also seems downright scary. The ProCell Therapies Microneedling Stem Cell Hair Regrowth Micro Needle Therapy Kit sounds like a torture device to me. A bargain at $1,575, right?

Amazon has thousands of stem cell products (including books!), but the most expensive non-book stem cell item is an odd stem cell cosmetic. For only $3,757.96 you can get a 6 pack of Dermaheal by Stem C’rum Cell Revitalizing Solution –6 Applications for WOMEN.

Let the buyer beware.

Is this stuff snake oil or could it actually help people? What do you think?

PB&J as a kid versus now

Peanut mobileWhen I was a kid I would sometimes have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. PB&J, as we called it, was a good choice for lunch. No refrigeration needed, not that we worried that much about that kind of thing back then just like seatbelts and secondhand smoke.

Thinking back, PB&J in the 1970s was a very different creature than today.

My PB&J as a kid came most often on something like Wonder Bread. The peanut butter would like have been Skippy or Jif. The jelly probably was grape or strawberry, and my mom or I would put a really thick layer.

Today I still every so often eat a PB&J, but the me of the 1970s might have been a bit puzzled at this PB&J of today.

My PB&J is always on whole wheat. There’s no white bread in our house. For the peanut butter we are spoiled to have the Davis Food Co-op’s freshly ground from peanuts. It smells really good. You can even grind it yourself there and it comes out warm. The “jelly” for PB&J today for me is often the whole fruit kind of thing. Taken together it is delicious.

The other thing that is different about PB&J today is something I learn from my kids. At school they often are not allowed to eat PB&J at all because of fellow students’ peanut allergies or if they are they have to be wary of where they sit because sometimes there are peanut-free tables.

In December I was in Atlanta for a meeting (see my post on visiting MLK’s birth home) and saw a peanut mobile (above). I know that 1970s kid version of me would have loved to have seen both MLK’s house, as he was a hero of mine, and a peanut mobile.

What do you think of PB&J’s? Take the poll.

TGIF weekend reads: stem cells, GMOs, #CRISPR, cats, cloning and more

Sounds recommended weekend reads for you to enjoy since it is Friday and almost the weekend.

Holy GMO, China wants to buy Syngenta.

cat stem cellsRetractionWatch says that Macchiarini will soon be out at Karolinska. For more on this “super surgeon” who used stem cells, see here regarding recent Vanity Fair Expose.

David Jensen on CIRM and human genetic modification: no germline work funded now, but possible in the future.

This is pretty awesome. Canadian ‘dream team’ to probe stem-cell link to brain cancer

If you mix cats and stem cells, it’s got to be good, right? Cat stem cell therapy gives humans hope

And now onto mice. Suicide of aging cells prolongs life span in mice

Human gene editing. For the first time in history, a government has approved genetically editing human embryos

And for laughs…

Mix GQ magazine and a cloning conspiracy = good for a laugh. Forget the ‘Flat Earth’ Stuff, B.O.B Thinks Celebrities Are BeingCloned