Which came first, the blank slate or the writer?

Mardi Gras comes and goes here in New Orleans and I miss out on all the controversy. I think I have discovered the real reason some people get so queasy when talk of genetic engineering of intelligence arises.

If the comments on this forum are in any way indicative of how the dialog will go on the larger scale(and I suspect that they are) the discussion will be like every other debate about genetic engineering, cloning, or pre-emptive medical intervention.

The anti side will be ignorant of the basic science and will be composed of liberal art majors chattering about how wrong it is to “tamper with nature” and religious right-wingers chattering about how wrong it is to “tamper with god’s creation.” The pro side will be composed of those who understand the basic science involved and realize that this really is nothing new and nature has been doing it all along, but this side will be totally unable to communicate with the anti side because:

1)the anti side is ignorant of the basic science.

2)the anti side doesn’t really want a reasoned debate anyways, they just want to yell and scream about how wrong it is.

[ EDIT 10-2007] It took me a long time to realize that not everyone agrees that rationality should be the basis for all policy decisions. If you want to get across to those people, you have to speak to their heart, not their head.

Peter Schultz makes mRNA cry.

I recently heard a presentation on this crazy guy, Peter Schultz, who has engineered bacteria to use para-aminophenylalanine instead of amber codons. The bacteria synthesize para-phenylalanine, have a para-phenylalanine tRNA synthetase, and and insert it with very high fidelity whenever the amber codon is found. The amber codon, which causes the ribosome to stop reading the mRNA when it’s found, is apparently quite rare, and because bacterial mRNAs aren’t as processed as eukaryotic ones, the bacteria get along quite well. I was thinking it would be really keen to make a series of mutants, each of which incorporated a different D-amino acid instead of the L version. Then, analysis of the structures of the D tRNA synthetases, of the ribosome translating the codon, and of the resulting protein could contribute a little information towards answering why we use all L amino acids.

Coincidentally, while I was googling a good link for this story, I found Lagniappe, who just blogged this story about the same time I heard the presentation.

Here’s Schultz’s PDF in JACS.

Derek, if you’re reading this, you’re the number one link at google for para-aminophenylalanine. Kinda funny that I find a blogspot blog as the number one search result for something right after google buys pyra. However, there were only 2 results total, so I only mention this to be funny, not to suggest anything conspiratorial.