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Scientists From Around the World Call for Immediate Halt to ‘Genetically Altered Children’

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Genetically Altered Children

Scientists and ethicists from around the world are warning of the consequences of failing to implement a temporary global halt on gene editing of human eggs, embryos, and sperm. 

In a letter to the journal Nature, 18 scientists and ethicists from seven countries called for a global moratorium on the type of gene editing that can result in genetically altered babies. The letter was prompted by a 2018 announcement by a Chinese scientist declaring the birth of the world’s first gene-edited twin babies.

The 18 signatories of this call include scientists and ethicists who are citizens of 7 countries. Many of us have been involved in the gene-editing field by developing and applying the technology, organizing and speaking at international summits, serving on national advisory committees and studying the ethical issues raised.”

Fears of “designer babies” have been on the rise in the last decade as scientists move closer to producing embryos which have been genetically modified to produce children with specific, desirable characteristics. This vision was once the exclusive domain of Hollywood movies like Gattaca, but now, a future where parents are able to pick and choose exactly how their child’s genes express themselves is eerily close.

Specifically, the group is calling for a moratorium on germline cells—in this case egg or sperm cells—that can then be inherited and “could have permanent and possibly harmful effects on the species.”

To begin with, there should be a fixed period during which no clinical uses of germline editing whatsoever are allowed,” the scientists write. “As well as allowing for discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that must be considered before germline editing is permitted, this period would provide time to establish an international framework.”

From that point on, individual nations will choose their own paths. The scientists predict that some nations may choose to continue a moratorium indefinitely or a permanent ban. They also call on any nation that chooses to allow specific applications of germline editing to first give public notice and engage in an “international consideration about the wisdom of doing so.” The group also calls for a “transparent evaluation” to determine if germline editing is justified and for a nation to gain a “broad societal consensus” over the appropriateness of the editing.

No clinical application of germline editing should be considered unless its long-term biological consequences are sufficiently understood—both for individuals and for the human species,” the group urges.

In a separate letter to the journal Nature, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), stated that the NIH strongly agrees that a moratorium should begin immediately and last until nations commit to international rules to determine “whether and under what conditions such research should ever proceed.”

This is a crucial moment in the history of science: a new technology offers the potential to rewrite the script of human life. We think that human gene editing for reproductive purposes carries very serious consequences—social, ethical, philosophical and theological,” Collins wrote. “Such great consequences deserve deep reflection. A substantive debate about benefits and risks that provides opportunities for multiple segments of the world’s diverse population to take part has not yet happened. Societies, after those deeper discussions, might decide this is a line that should not be crossed. It would be unwise and unethical for the scientific community to foreclose that possibility.”

In a response to both letters, the editors of Nature released an editorial describing their viewpoint. “Whether or not a moratorium receives more widespread support, several things need to be done to ensure that germline gene-editing studies, done for the purposes of research only, are on a safe and sensible path,” the editors wrote. The editors called for all proposals and basic research studies using gene-editing tools in human embryos to be deposited in an open registry. Certain countries will have lax laws which could be exploited by “would-be mavericks” and thus there is a need for global laws to prevent and penalize unacceptable research, the editors state.

The right decisions on human germline modification can be reached only through frank and open discussion, followed by swift action. With so much at stake, that must happen now.”

Health

Humans May Have Found a Way To Not Only Stop Aging – But To Reverse It as Well

Elias Marat

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Humans have long to reverse the effects of aging and prolong their lives. Whether this was due to a love of power, a love of wealth or simple human anxiety about the loss of youth, tales about immortality can be found in the folk tales of countless cultures.

And while aging is a wholly natural process, humans have always struggled to fight against it – be it through science and medicine or through the search for supposed cures such as the mythical Fountain of Youth.

And now, Israeli scientists have claimed to have figured out a solution not only to the process of biological aging – but to reverse it as well, simply by administering pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber.

In a study published Nov. 18 in the peer-reviewed journal Aging, the scientists claim to have showed how aging could be reversed in two key biological clocks in humans related to aging and illness by administering high-pressure oxygen in a pressurized chamber.

When humans grow olders and their cells divide, the sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes – known as telomeres – grow shorter with time. After the telomeres become too short, the cell is unable to replicate and eventually dies.

While telomere shortening can keep rogue cancerous cells from multiplying rapidly, this also results in genetic aging. As a result, geriatric cells that aren’t able to divide –  also known as senescent cells – accumulate throughout our lives, and are one of the key causes of aging.

In the clinical study, 35 people aged 64 or older were given hyperbaric oxygen treatments (HBOT) for 90 minutes a day, five times a week over the course of three months. Blood samples were collected from subjects prior to the treatment, after after the first and second months of the trial, and two weeks after the trial ended.

The patients didn’t have any lifestyle, diet, or medication changes during the study. However, their blood revealed major increases in the telomere length of their cells and a decrease in the number of their senescent cells.

For the researchers, the results of the study offered proof that the process of aging is reversible.

“Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation,” Prof. Shai Efrati of Tel Aviv University told the Jerusalem Post. “Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level.”

The groundbreak study, he added, “gives hope and opens the door for a lot of young scientists to target aging as a reversible disease.”

The oxygen treatment also improved subjects’ attention, ability to process information, as well as subjects’ executive functions, the researchers said.

While attempts to halt aging through modifying one’s lifestyle or intensively exercising can provide “some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening”, the hyperbaric oxygen treatment is more effective, said Efrati’s partner at the Shamir Medical Center, Chief Medical Research Officer Amir Hadanny.

“In our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications,” Hadanny said.

The study could open the door to a radical new approach to medical problems and medicine in general.

“Today telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging,” Prof. Shai Efrati of Tel Aviv University told the Jerusalem Post. “We are not [just] slowing the decline – we are going backwards in time.”

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Saturn and Jupiter Will Align and Create Extremely Rare ‘Christmas Star’ During Winter Solstice

Elias Marat

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The 2020 holiday season is widely expected to be one unlike any other, due in no small part to the ongoing public health emergency. However, Christmas celebrations will also be unique due to an extremely rare planetary alignment, the likes of which have never been seen since medieval times.

Star-gazers will be in for a major treat come December 21, 2020 – the date of the winter solstice – when Jupiter and Saturn will appear extremely close to one another in our night sky, making the planets appear that they might almost collide and becoming one extremely luminous point of light.

The rare celestial treat coinciding with Christmas week will see the Solar System’s two largest planets appear as a “double planet” for the first time in almost 800 years.

“Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another,” said astronomer Patrick Hartigan in a press release from Rice University in Houston, Texas.

“You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky,” he added.

Of course, these massive planets won’t be close to one another. Consider our own planet’s distance from the sun. Astronomers use what’s called astronomical units (au) to measure distances in the sprawling expanse of our solar system. Jupiter lies 5 au from the Earth, while Saturn lies 10 au away.

Since the summer, Jupiter and Saturn have been headed towards each other in our own night sky. And from Dec. 16-25, they will appear to be separated by only less than the diameter of a full moon.

While astronomers are recommending that the best views will be seen from around the equator, if good weather permits then the alignment will be clear from any location here on Earth.

Jupiter and Saturn will also be clear during the twilight, for roughly an hour after sunset every evening. However, a telescope tilted toward the western sky will be the best way to catch a glimpse of the extremely rare event.

“On the evening of closest approach on Dec 21 they will look like a double planet, separated by only 1/5th the diameter of the full moon,” Hartigan explained. “For most telescope viewers, each planet and several of their largest moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”

“The further north a viewer is, the less time they’ll have to catch a glimpse of the conjunction before the planets sink below the horizon.”

Websites like Stellarium will also be helpful in figuring out where you should look for the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction.

If you don’t get a chance to catch Jupiter and Saturn this close together, you can catch the pair again relatively soon – on March 15, 2080.

However, the next time Jupiter and Saturn will be so close in earthly night skies will be in 2400.

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Breonna Taylor Protest Leader, Suspect in Drug Case, Both Shot Dead Within Days

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Two people with close ties to the Breonna Taylor case have been shot and killed this week, and no suspects have announced in either case. Last Thursday, 28-year-old Adrian O. Walker was shot and killed in west Louisville, Kentucky, according to the Courier-Journal. Walker was one of the primary suspects in the investigation that led to the raid on Breonna Taylor’s home back in March. 

Adrian Walker entered a not guilty plea in late July to charges of engaging in a criminal syndicate, along with drug and gun charges, in connection with the investigation. He was one of the three people listed on the search warrant for Taylor’s home. 

Adrian Walker is not related to Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who fired back at police when the home was raided, they just happen to have the same last name. 

Police believed that Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, was storing cash and receiving packages of drugs at Taylor’s home, and that Adrian Walker was working with him.

Glover previously told reporters that he was offered a plea deal in which he would be promised a lighter sentence if he agreed to claim that Taylor was a criminal who belonged to an “organized crime syndicate.”

Glover turned down the deal. He believes that Taylor’s house may have been targeted because she bailed him out of jail when he was in trouble in the past. Police say that Glover was selling drugs out of a house nearly ten miles away from where the raid occurred, but he has pled not guilty to those charges and claims that the police are mistaken.

Adrian Walker, who was listed as an associate of Glover’s in the warrant, was found dead sometime in the afternoon on November 19th, on the 2300 block of Magazine Street, and police have not shared any details about the case with the public.

Just a few days later, one of the protest leaders behind the justice for Breonna Taylor movement was shot and killed, the Courier-Journal reported. On Monday, Hamza “Travis” Nagdy, was killed on the 2100 block of Crittenden Drive, also in Louisville.

Alton Strupp / Courier Journal

There are no suspects in his shooting either, and police have not revealed any details about the case.

In a post on Facebook, Nagdy’s mother and stepmother both confirmed his death. His sister, Sarah Nagdy, launched a GoFundMe for Nagdy’s funeral expenses, which has already raised over $17,000 in the first day that it was posted. A candlelight vigil in Nagdy’s honor will take place at Jefferson Square Park at 6 p.m. on Monday evening.

There is no indication that these two shootings are connected, but it is concerning that two people with connections to such a high profile case have died in unexplained murders.

So far this year there have been over 140 homicides in the city of Louisville, breaking the city’s record of 117 homicides in 2016 over a month before the end of the year.

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