A Turning Point in Cancer

“The narrative has been incubating for many years, but in recent days we are witnessing some extraordinary progress in treating and monitoring cancer. The convergence of genomics of the cancer—be it from the person’s DNA or tumor directly or the blood (known as liquid biopsy)—matched with the appropriate therapy is leading to outcomes that are being described as “unheard-of” by expert oncologists. This represents the essence of individualized medicine, whereby understanding the unique biologic basis of a person’s cancer can lead to highly accurate and effective treatment, and also avoid the toxicity of classical chemotherapeutic agents.”

-Eric Topel, “A turning point in cancer.” erictopol.substack.com. June 10, 2022

This kind of sums up what I have been seeing a lot of lately. Almost daily, I see reports from randomized trials, tabletop science, and other areas that indicate a lot of progress is being made in the treatment of cancer.

Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More

“‘I fully predict it will be possible,’ says Hsu of selecting embryos with higher IQ scores. ‘But we’ve said that we as a company are not going to do it. It’s a difficult issue, like nuclear weapons or gene editing. There will be some future debate over whether this should be legal, or made illegal. Countries will have referendums on it.'”

—Antonio Regalado,”Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More.” The MIT Technology Review. November 1, 2017.

The one feature of technology that you can count on is that as soon as something becomes possible, shortly thereafter, it will be done. Countries that allow genetic selection and modification will spawn a tourism trade until it becomes the norm. What happens when human beings become a manufactured product?

Cambrian Explosion

“The hox genes are, more or less, the standard library for the structural assembly of animal bodies. It’s a DNA-modifying type of gene, one that activates specific other regions of DNA during early development. Need a leg? Activate the ‘leg’ hox gene, and that will start a huge cascade of related processes that make a torso segment that contains a couple legs plus all the necessary hip-joints and such in a somewhat standardized way.** This makes it easier than you’d think to adapt animal body plans on the fly; rather than reinventing legs from the ground up every time you want to adapt from quadruped to hexaped, you can just have a mutation that calls the hox gene two more times. It is also a primary mechanism of directionality, in which animal bodies have a clear orientation with a front and back.

As you might imagine, animals almost never survive a mutation to the hox genes proper, let alone thrive and speciate. It tends to mean that you get born without a head or something. So, both humans and house flies tend to have a very similar set. That holds true across the entire animal kingdom, with only a few exceptions- hox genes are frozen in time, proportionate with their importance. Care to guess which types of animal lack fully formed hox genes?

That’s right: sponges and jellyfish. Even those have a rough proto-hox thing going on, but it’s a far cry short of ours.

It goes without saying that this will have implications for species diversity in the animal kingdom. Adaptation isn’t as easy as building an animal out of legos, but it has at least gotten a lot easier. Animals can experiment with body shapes in more radical ways, and be successful more often when they do so—they’re now exploring a much larger space of possibilities.

We’re starting to piece together a rough framework here, in which the rise of oxygen and the slow development of meta-genomic advantages work together to provide space for a more dynamic ecosystem, but is that enough to make sense of something as dramatic and surprising as the Cambrain Explosion? It’s a start!”

Anonymous. “Notes From an Apocalypse.” Lesserwrong.com. September 23, 2017.