Tag Archives: science

New genetic modification techniques – Australia

The following is a quote from an email I received today regarding the approval of new GM tech in Australia:

Next week Dr Michael Antoniou, Reader in Molecular Genetics at King’s College London School of Life Sciences will be visiting Melbourne. He is here to discuss his concerns with a range of new genetic engineering techniques that the Federal Government is currently proposing not to regulate.
If the Government deregulates these techniques anyone from amateur biohackers – to industry – would be free to use them to genetically modify plants, animals and microbes. And they could enter our food chain and our environment with no safety testing and no labelling. The results could be catastrophic.

The key phrase is ‘proposing not to regulate‘, closely followed by ‘no safety testing‘ and ‘no labelling‘.

Genetic modification is here to stay and we have to accept that, but we do not have to accept a wild, wild west style free-for-all. Surely an ethical approach is not too much to ask from our government, even the Liberals?

The ‘GM 2.0: What the Government isn’t telling you’ forum is being held next Monday:
6.30 (for a 7pm start) – 9pm, Monday 20th March
William Angliss Institute: Rm. A337, Building A, 555 La Trobe St., Melbourne

Please email Louise Sales <louise.sale@foe.org.au> for a ticket if you can attend [they’re free].

If not, please get people talking about this issue. Isn’t it time our opinions were heard? Corporations may stand to make a lot of money out of this, but you and I will be the bunnies who have to live with it.



Stubbing your toe will hurt – that is a fact

First came the Women’s March. Now comes the March for Science. Given the ongoing protests sweeping the US, one might assume that scientists are organizing to voice their general disagreement with Donald Trump’s policies—or perhaps that they simply want to protect their grants and jobs from federal funding cuts. But what’s at stake is much…

via The March for Science isn’t partisan or anti-Trump—it’s pro-facts — Quartz

This article is about facts and the threat facing science in tRump’s America. Not ‘alternate facts’ but the kind that always hurt, no matter how much you may try to explain them away. One such fact is that the US became great because of its science. The only way to make it great again is to give science, and facts, the respect they deserve.

DNA snippets for virus communications

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries have been accidental. To that list, Israeli scientists have added one more. They’ve discovered for the first time an instance of viruses leaving messages for other viruses. What makes the discovery remarkable is that scientists expect such communication systems to exist among other kinds of viruses. If true, we’ll…

via Scientists have caught viruses talking to each other—and that could be the key to a new age of anti-viral drugs — Quartz

This is quite astounding. Not quite the equivalent of dogs leaving scent markers so other dogs will know they’ve been there, but a form of communication nonetheless. From a virus. And there’s a good chance other viruses use a similar method to communicate as well. More amazing ‘accidents’. 😀

When science meets fiction, and they have a love-child

Vuk picMy thanks to the Passive Guy for highlighting the following article in the Guardian.


The article talks about the symbiosis that exists between hard science, and the speculative, highly imaginative and sometimes unlikely stories we weave from it.

I count myself as one of the ‘we’ even though most of my formal education was in the humanities – philosophy and languages to be precise. But before I began my arts course, my favourite subject at school was biology. Sadly I was not so fond of math, and no one told me you needed both to take biology past year one level at uni. so… -sigh-

Just because I could no longer study biology did not mean I stopped being interested in it. I continued to read layman’s articles in the area for years [thank you New Scientist!]. And that interest manifested itself in every weird and wonderful creature in Vokhtah, including the Vokh themselves.

Did you know that there is a species of worm that is essentially an hermaphrodite? When these worms mate, they literally duel with their penises to determine which becomes the sperm donor, and which the donee [?].

I swear, I did not make that up! It was one of the many, many things I researched before I created the Vokh. In fact research is the core link between scientists and writers because a world, no matter how imaginative, has to follow rules, plausible rules, otherwise it becomes fantasy not science fiction.

For example, although there are some elements of Vokhtah that are more ‘fantasy’ than anything else, [the power to heal, for example] I did spend months researching what my creatures would see when day changed to night, and one sun followed the other across the sky. I knew very little about binary star systems, and even the scientists could not tell me precisely how two suns would affect things like weather, and the day/night cycle, so the Vokh calendar is very speculative indeed. But I did try.

Other, ‘softer’ areas of knowledge informed my writing as well. Hungarian is my so-called mother tongue, and I studied French and Japanese at uni, along with a smattering of Mandarin and Spanish, so it was almost inevitable that I would get carried away with the Vokh language.

At first, I only wanted a few alien sounding names so I drew on Hungarian for the name ‘Vokh’. The word was based on ‘Vuk’, the name of a popular child’s toy in Hungary. That’s what the cute picture up the top is all about. You were wondering, weren’t you? -smirk-

Once started, however, I could not seem to stop and ended up with a Vokh to English dictionary-slash-encyclopedia.

Yet more research went into cross-over technologies such as blacksmithing and hunting. [Some of you may remember my post about the Poacher’s Knot in which I talked about hunting methods and very simple snares.]

But I digress, badly. My point in all this is that you don’t have to be a scientist to write science fiction, [although many, like Isaac Asimov were]. I believe the only necessary qualification for a science fiction writer is the need to know how things, and people tick.

-cough- Or in my case, how sociopathic, flying hermaphrodites tick. -cough-

Happy Australia Day!


P.S.!!!! I just found my 13th review of Vokhtah on Amazon. -dance-

Bushfires – Inside the Inferno [Episode 1]

I just watched the first episode of ‘Bushfires – Inside the Inferno’ on SBS, and the one question that baffles me is why isn’t it being shown on every TV channel?

The program is brilliant and I urge everyone to watch the next episode – SBS TV, 8.30 pm, Wednesday.

Night, night


The problem with science is…

…that we’re all human, and as such, we all have a split personality. On the one hand we are more or less hard wired for rational thought [work with me here please!], but at the same time we have the capacity to live quite happily with paradox. For example, I consider myself to be a very logical person, so I refuse to accept the idea of pre-destination, yet when things go my way I get this warm feeling that ‘fate’ is being kind to me. If a paradox becomes too painful I  do something about it, eventually, but most of the time I just live with it.

“Get to the point!” I hear you say.

“Yes, Master,” I reply as I tug my forelock.

So the fact that we can live with paradox tends to explain things like the rise of creationism. After all, you don’t see creationists giving up their cars, dishwashers, huge tv’s and all the other creature comforts that rely on the science they deny, do you? No, of course not. If asked they will say that they only deny evolution, which would be fine if evolution relied only on Darwin’s observations. The truth though, is that evolution is backed up by all sorts of other scientific disciplines, including the discipline of geology which gives us the petroleum that fuels our technology.

And therein lies another human fact : we are ignorant. We know how to use a light switch or an iPad but 99.999999% of us have no idea how either one works, or is produced. The same ignorance extends to the sciences. Notice that plural? It’s important because until fairly recently there were two types of science – pure and applied.

Back in the day, Universities used to be funded by governments and philanthropists so scientists could be free to explore new ideas just for the hell of it. From this ‘pure’ research, other scientists would come up with clever ways to put the discoveries to use. This was the ‘applied’ part of the equation. Industries then turned these discoveries into manufactured goods and services for consumers, i.e. us.

If we fast forward to the present day, however, we find that a third branch of science has been added to the family. I call this one ‘commercial’ science. Large companies with lots of money fund research and development directly. The scientists who work for these companies are paid well to do the kind of research that will benefit the company. Successes are turned into patented, goldmines. Clinical trials that fail are quietly swept under the carpet. This is not how pure and applied science is meant to work but hey, who wants to lose their job, get blacklisted and face possible litigation as a whistle-blower?

So from the heyday of the first man on the moon, we [the general public] have gradually moved to an era in which we no longer trust science quite the way we used to. We still cling to the technology, but we’re starting to feel uneasy about the juggernaut that’s bearing down on us.

The two great controversies of the present era – genetically modified food and climate change – are prime examples of our love-hate relationship with science. We don’t know who to trust any more because we don’t understand how the system works. And so we allow creationism equal time with evolution. And because we don’t understand how the politics of science work, we end up distrusting both the science that gave us genetically modified food, and the science that’s telling us our lives depend on doing something about climate change before it’s too late. As with government politics, scientific issues are now surrounded by so much spin and counter spin that no-one knows which way is up.

My compass in these murky waters is the old saying ‘follow the money’. On that basis I reject genetically modified food because it benefits huge multinational companies like Monsanto, and I accept the science of climate change because it definitely does not benefit huge, multinational corporations who might have to clean up their act.

I know this is a very unscientific way of making choices, but it works for me. Do you agree? Disagree vehemently? Have a completely different take altogether? You know I love a good debate and the weekend is looming, so let’s get this discussion started!



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