Though I am a week late in expressing this sentiment, I feel I must acknowledge this rather interesting of events. As it stands, this past April 22nd was the sixty-first anniversary of the molecular structure of DNA being revealed to the world. What began as a publication in the magazine Nature has now become emblematic of the programming language of life, and our understanding of DNA has grown by leaps and bounds over the past six decades.
To commemorate such an important landmark in the history of humanity, a look back at some of the more recent developments in the field of genetic research would seem to be in order. For example, it was on April 22nd of this year that a rather interesting study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The lead on this study was none other than Svante Pääbo – the world’s foremost expert in Neanderthal genetics.
Based on the genomes of three neanderthals that were found in disparate locations in Eurasia, Pääbo and his colleagues have concluded that the genetic diversity in Neanderthals is significantly less when compared to present-day Homo sapiens. It also appears as if the Neanderthal populations were relatively isolated and tiny, so gene flow was extremely limited for these groups. In short, our homonid cousins didn’t get around and interbreed quite as much as we’ve done, which may shed some light on their disappearance.
On the very same day, an article was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that proposed that skin cancer from the sun’s damaging UV rays was actually a driving force in the national selection for dark skin in early humans. In the article, Mel Greaves delivers a compelling argument that the deadliness of skin cancer in young albino children in Africa and Central America demonstrates just how vital it was for early humans to develop dark skin.
And on April 25th, National Geographic and Family Tree DNA teamed up to announce the release of a brand new version of the human Y-DNA tree. This new tree of Y chromosome mutations has over 1,200 branches — almost double the number of branches that the Genographic Project was displaying before. With this much refinement, it’s now even easier to track the historical migrations of your distant ancestors.
To celebrate this monumental roll-out, Family Tree DNA offered a 20% discount on the 37-marker Y-DNA test and all individual Y-DNA SNP (single-nucleotide polymorphism) tests, an offer which sadly expired on April 27th. However, interested parties can still have this cutting-edge anthropological genetic test performed for $200. And it’s something to keep in mind for next year certainly. What better way to celebrate DNA day than to have a full genetic profile of yourself made?
And let’s not forget, 2012 was also the year that the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Consortium – an international collaboration of research groups funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) – released the world’s most complete report on the human genome to date. Unlike the Human Genome Project, which released the first catalog of human DNA back in 2003, ENCODE was not only able to catalog the human genome’s various parts, but also what those components actually do.
Among the initiative’s many findings was that so-called “junk DNA” – outlier DNA sequences that do not encode for protein sequences – are not junk at all, and are in fact responsible for such things as gene regulation, disease onset, and even human height. As I’ve said before, these findings will go a long way towards developing gene therapy, biotechnology that seeks to create artificial DNA and self-assembling structures, and even cloning.
Yes, it’s an exciting time for the field of DNA research, and not just because of the many doors its likely to open. Beyond medical and bioresearch, it helps us to understand of ourselves as a species, our collective origins, and may perhaps help us to see just how interconnected we all truly are. For centuries now, a great many evils and prejudices have been committed in the name of “racial superiority” or racial differences.
Armed with this new knowledge, we might just come to realize that this great organism known as humanity is all fruit of the same tree.
If you thought your world was already permeated enough by adspace, hang on to your hat! According to =researchers and geneticists, the age of genetic-based advertising is right around the corner, and is likely to be even more profitable than internet, television, radio or billboard ads ever were! Yes, in this brave new future, selling yourself will take on literal dimensions, with people signing over their genetic information and tailoring what ads they receive based on that very same thing.
Call it another unintended consequence of the Human Genome Project and ENCODE, which the latter of which recently finished cataloging the function of every part of the human genome. Or it could just be a case of advertising and the commercial industry making inroads, following the path traced by researchers and scientists in the hopes of finding the next place to saturate with ads.
Regardless, geneticist Michael Schatz of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory sums up the possibility as follows:
Today, it’s such a niche market, but there’s tremendous growth opportunities there. In the endgame, it’s certain [genetics is] going to become one of the factors that big retailers would consider, but I think that’s pretty far off.
But as it turns out, it may not be as far off as he thinks. Already, a Minneapolis-based startup named Miinome is building a platform that will help consumers control what offers they get from retailers based on their genetic makeup, and to possibly cash in on the value of their DNA by selling the data back to marketers and researchers.
Through an open API, Miinome plans to collect genetic and environmental data mined from social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and run that through their proprietary algorithm to come up with a profile of you that’s richer than anything that exists on the internet today. Then, they will be able to infer what environmental factors and personal traits are likely to cause you concern, or gives rise to special needs.
These could something along the work-related stress and the problems associated with it – i.e. weight gain, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, etc. – and then recommend ads that would help the person address these. If a person so chooses to broadcast this kind of information to Miinome’s business partners, they could show you very targeted ads for weight loss supplements, hair care products, boner pills and anything else you might want.
The company, which is launching in closed beta this spring, will essentially be a repository and brokerage firm for your genetic information that will allow its members to choose what academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies or marketing firms can take a peek at which of their genes. Miinome, which boasts geneticist George Church and Autodesk’s Andrew Hessel as advisers, will essentially make money every time one of your traits is accessed by companies.
Whether you are for or against such an idea, you have to admit, it’s a pretty shrewd and sound business plan. In a company statement, Miinome CEO Paul Saarinen put forth the following mission statement:
We believe we can make your genetic information useful every day, not just when you’re sick. We’re the first member-controlled, portable human genomics marketplace.
Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way would be to say that this is yet another invasion of people’s privacy, reaching beyond cookies and web-surfing habits to find a truly effective and intrusive way to spam them. Naturally, Saarinen also pointed out that everything will be opt-in and Miinome business partners won’t be able to get their hands on raw genetic data.
Still, one can expect privacy and human rights advocates to have something to say about this real soon!
Today, I thought I’d totally nerd out and share some additional cool stuff from one of my favorite games of all time: Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri! As you may have noticed, I already did a review of the game itself. But returning to this game to boast about it some more was something I just couldn’t resist! After over a decade, I’m still not bored with this turn-based strategy game. It’s just that good.
Anyhoo, today I thought I’d share something which I glossed over in my review. And that would be the games best one-liners. During every turn, whenever you build a special project, experience a research breakthrough, build a new type of facility, or develop a new type of unit, you get a line accompanied by some music and in the case of projects, even a little movie. Most are original creations, spoken by the faction leaders themselves, and give added depth to an already immersive gaming experience.
Here is the list of the ones I like best, broken down by faction. I also included some of the movies at the bottom. Enjoy!
Gaia’s Stepdaughters: The Gaian’s are the natural ecologists and environmentalists of the game. As such, the majority of Lady Dierdre’s quotes (their leader) espouse cultivating an understanding of the planet’s ecology and the super-sentience that governs it. In many cases, these involve conversations between her and the planetary sentience itself, which are collected in the fictional tome named “Conversations with Planet”.
“Observe the Razorbeak as it tends so carefully to the fungal blooms; just the right bit from the yellow, then a swatch from the pink. Follow the Glow Mites as they gather and organize the fallen spores. What higher order guides their work? Mark my words: someone or something is managing the ecology of this planet.”
“Planet’s atmosphere, though a gasping death to humans and most animals, is paradise for Earth plants. The high nitrate content of the soil and the rich yellow sunlight bring an abundant harvest wherever adjustments can be made for the unusual soil conditions.”
“You are the children of a dead planet, earthdeirdre, and this death we do not comprehend. We shall take you in, but may we ask this question–will we too catch the planetdeath disease?” -taken from “Conversations with Planet”, Dierdre’s dialogue with the planetary sentience
“No longer mere earthbeings and planetbeings are we, but bright children of the stars! And together we shall dance in and out of ten billion years, celebrating the gift of consciousness until the stars themselves grow cold and weary, and our thoughts turn again to the beginning.” -“Conversation with Planet”, after you develop the “Ascent to Transcendance” where your faction merges with the planetary sentience
“Eternity lies ahead of us, and behind. Have you drunk your fill?”
-“Conversations with Planet”, during the game’s epilogue
Human Hive: Led by Chairman Yang, the Hive is a totalitarian faction that is clearly inspired by Maoist China and the North Korea. The majority of his quotes have to do with the nature of his political beliefs, which occasionally digress into the spiritual, a combination of Taoism and ascetisim.
“Einstein would turn in his grave. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded.”
“If our society seems more nihilistic than that of previous eras, perhaps this is simply a sign of our maturity as a sentient species. As our collective consciousness expands beyond a crucial point, we are at last ready to accept life’s fundamental truth: that life’s only purpose is life itself.”
“What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output.”
“It is every citizen’s final duty to go into the tanks and become one with all the people.” -upon building Recycling Tanks
“My gift to industry is the genetically engineered worker, or Genejack. Specially designed for labor, the Genejack’s muscles and nerves are ideal for his task, and the cerebral cortex has been atrophied so that he can desire nothing except to perform his duties. Tyranny, you say? How can you tyrannize someone who cannot feel pain?” -upon building a Genejack Factory
Lords Believers: The undisputed fundamentalist faction of the planet, led by Sister Miriam. As expected, the majority of what she has to say has to do with defending her traditional beliefs, calling into question the nature of technological progress, and condemning the majority of developments that take place late in the game.
“Some would ask, how could a perfect God create a universe filled with so much that is evil. They have missed a greater conundrum: why would a perfect God create a universe at all?”
“The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the song of yesterday fades into the challenge of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear. But it was never the streets that were evil.”
“Beware, you who seek first and final principles, for you are trampling the garden of an angry God and he awaits you just beyond the last theorem.”
“Men in their arrogance claim to understand the nature of creation, and devise elaborate theories to describe its behavior. But always they discover in the end that God was quite a bit more clever than they thought.”
“Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind.” -after finishing the project The Self-Aware Colony
“And what of the immortal soul in such transactions? Can this machine transmit and reattach it as well? Or is it lost forever, leaving a soulless body to wander the world in despair?”
-after creating the Bulk Matter Transmitter
“Already we have turned all of our critical industries, all of our material resources, over to these…things…these lumps of silver and paste we call nanorobots. And now we propose to teach them intelligence? What, pray tell, will we do when these little homunculi awaken one day announce that they have no further need for us?”
Morgan Industries: CEO Morgan, leader of the Morganites, is an unquestioning believer in the art of laissez-faire economics and unadulterated capitalism. He has plenty to say on the subject of research and development, not to mention the continuance of monopolistic practices on the new planet. The environment and moderation be damned! Most of these are contained within his tomes “The Centauri Monopoly” and “The Ethics of Greed”.
“Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary but competition for limited resources remains a constant. Need as well as greed has followed us to the stars and the rewards of wealth still await those wise enough to recognize this deep thrumming of our common pulse.”
“Richard Baxton piloted his Recon Rover into a fungal vortex and held off four waves of mind worms, saving an entire colony. We immediately purchased his identity manifests and repackaged him into the Recon Rover Rick character with a multi-tiered media campaign: televids, touchbooks, holos, psi-tours– the works. People need heroes. They don’t need to know how he died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The real story would just hurt sales, and dampen the spirits of our customers.”
‘Abort, Retry, Fail?’ was the phrase some wormdog scrawled next to the door of the Edit Universe project room. And when the new dataspinners started working, fabricating their worlds on the huge organic comp systems, we’d remind them: if you see this message, always choose ‘Retry.’
-quote from one of Morgan’s software developers
“Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill.”
“Fossils fuels in the last century reached their extreme prices because of their inherent utility: they pack a great deal of potential energy into an extremely efficient package. If we can but sidestep the 100 million year production process, we can corner this market once again.”
“Look at any photograph or work of art. If you could duplicate exactly the first tiny dot of color, and then the next and the next, you would end with a perfect copy of the whole, indistinguishable from the original in every way, including the so-called “moral value” of the art itself. Nothing can transcend its smallest elements.”
Peacekeeping Forces: Led by Brother Lal, the Peacekeepers are perhaps the most balanced faction in this game. Dedicated to human rights, scientific research, democracy, freedom of information, and peace, they are quite to make enemies with many of the more extreme factions. And of course, the majority of quotes from this faction deal with inalienable rights of human beings, the importance of freedom, and the consequences of certain technologies.
“As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.”
“The Mind Worms are the natural defenses of the living Planet–the white blood cells, if you will. In a world in which unassimilated thought represents danger, the Mind Worm seeks out concentrations of sentient mental energy and destroys them, ruthlessly and efficiently.”
“The entire character of a base and its inhabitants can be absorbed in a quick trip to the Rec Commons. The sweaty arenas of Fort Legion, the glittering gambling halls of Morgan Bank, the sunny lovers’ trysts in Gaia’s High Garden, or the somber reading rooms of U.N. Headquarters. Even the feeding bay at the Hive gives stark insight into the sleeping demons of Yang’s communal utopia.”
“The Warrior’s bland acronym, MMI, obscures the true horror of this monstrosity. Its inventors promise a new era of genius, but meanwhile unscrupulous power brokers use its forcible installation to violate the sanctity of unwilling human minds. They are creating their own private army of demons.”
Spartan Federation: The Spartans are aptly named, and represent the faction that believes that the right to bear arms in both inalienable and unquestionable. Led by Colonel Santiago, a total badass in her own right, the majority of what comes from them consists of philosophical tidbits taken from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, updated for the modern age, and some random bits of marching songs and barracks scuttlebutt.
“Information, the first principle of warfare, must form the foundation of all your efforts. Know, of course, thine enemy. But in knowing him do not forget above all to know thyself. The commander who embraces this totality of battle shall win even with inferior force.”
“I don’t know but I’ve been told, Deirdre’s got a Network Node. Likes to press the on-off switch, Dig that crazy Gaian witch!”
-Spartan marching song
“Industrial Grade Nano-Paste, one of Planet’s most valuable commodities, can also be one of its most dangerous. Simply pour out several canisters, slide in a programming transponder, and step well away while the stuff cooks. In under an hour the nano will use available materials to assemble a small factory, a hovertank, or enough rifles to equip a regiment.”
–describing industrial nanomachines
“We shall take only the greatest minds, the finest soldiers, the most faithful servants. We shall multiply them a thousandfold and release them to usher in a new era of glory.” -upon developing the Cloning Vats
The University: Led by Academician Prokhor Zakharov, the University is Planet’s great espouser of technological progress and scientific research, unhampered by such things as spirituality and political controls. On the one hand, they call to mind the stereotype of the mad scientist. On the other, they are picture perfect representations of the empirical method and true believers in freedom. As such, they make good allies, but can turn into enemies rather easily as well. Consistent with their outlook, the majority of what their leader has to say concerns scientific ideas and a defense of their methods from what they see as small-mindedness or old world dogma.
“Man’s unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.”
“A brave little theory, and actually quite coherent for a system of five or seven dimensions — if only we lived in one.”
-after researching String Theory
“What actually transpires beneath the veil of an event horizon… decent people shouldn’t think too much about that!”
“The first living thing to go through the device was a small white rat. I still have him, in fact. As you can see, the damage was not so great as they say.” -after developing the technology for teleportation gates
“The popular stereotype of the researcher is that of a skeptic and a pessimist. Nothing could be further from the truth! Scientists must be optimists at heart, in order to block out the incessant chorus of those who say ‘It cannot be done.’
“We have reached an informational threshold which can only be crossed by harnessing the speed of light directly. The quickest computations require the fasted possible particles moving along the shortest paths. Since the capability now exists to take our information directly from photons traveling molecular paths, the final act of the information revolution will soon be upon us.”
-upon developing Optical Computers
Time travel in the classic sense has no place in rational theory, but temporal distortion does exist on the quantum level, and more importantly it can be controlled.
Other: “A handsome young cyborg named Ace,
wooed women at every base. But once ladies glanced at His special enhancement They vanished with narry a trace!”
-Spartan Barracks Graffiti
“Mary had a little lamb, Little lamb little lamb, Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow.” -Assassins’ Redoubt Final Transmission, after you build the “Dream Twister”, a psionic weapon that drives people mad
“Please don’t go. The drones need you. They look up to you!”
I think that last one is my favorites. I queues up from time to time when you try to quit the game suddenly. Oh, and as promised, some movies from the gameplay. With the exception of the Intro segment, all play after you complete a Secret Project.