The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Written in the genes, read at Charlotte Square

The Genomics Forum has for several years sponsored events at the Edinburgh Book Festival. This year, the forum is sponsoring three (all at 7 pm - 8.15 pm):

Tomorrow night (Thursday), Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True, will be discussing 'Belief in Evolution: what does it mean?' with philosopher and Egenis director Professor John Dupré and theologian Professor John Brooke, chaired by Professor Steve Yearley (who is, incidentally, adamant that this isn't a discussion about whether evolution occurred, but about what it means for us that it did).

On Friday 21 August, the world's most medically-tested healthy man, best-selling author, science journalist and Wired Contributing Editor David Ewing Duncan, kicks around the question 'Do we need to know our personal genetic data?' with medical sociologist Professor Steve Sturdy, neuropathologist and Brain Bank Director Professor James Ironside and clinical geneticist Dr Mary Porteus.

Next week, on Thursday 27 August, I'll be chairing a panel on 'Genetics and Identity in the Year of "Homecoming"' with genealogist and biologist Dr Bruce Durie, acclaimed novelist Suhayl Saadi, and writer, producer and former National Poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis.

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Speaking of genes, if only vaguely, I've been wondering if you or anyone else can write something about self-assembling materials.

I've been wondering what might be possible, given the increasing total of artificial chemicals now widely distributed in, well, everything alive, and the next wave of nanomaterials coming along far faster than the researchers can look for consequences.

I see there's software coming available to work out how various stuff will fit together if given the opportunity.

We seem to have provided the opportunity.

It might happen, say, in the fat collection bin of a liposuction emporium -- anywhere that concentrates this stuff that's now so widely distributed in small amounts.

Surely something interesting can build itself, given enough shaking and stirring to bring the molecules together.

Self-assembly emerging in a liposuction bin ... you have the elevator pitch for the 2011 summer horror blockbuster right there!

It's all very well saying there are some things man was not meant to know. There are some things man was not meant to think.

But I salute your indisgustability.

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