Spec Tech: A Biology Lexicon for the Twenty-First Century

This piece is inspired by J. G. Ballard’s “Project for a Glossary of the Twentieth Century,” originally published in Zone in 1992, and later collected in A User’s Guide to the Millennium in 1996. I’ve added links for some of the more specific scientific references. Biofuel. Soylent green. Cancer. Immortality at the cost of your…… Continue reading Spec Tech: A Biology Lexicon for the Twenty-First Century

Spec Tech: Of Mucus, Bile, and the Indigestibility of Wood (or What We Talk About When We Talk About the Digestive System)

There’s the old saying: you are what you eat. Part of this guilt-inducing suggestion is that you should pay attention to what you ingest, eat more healthily, because your food will become part of you. But hidden within this message is something much more basic, ancient, and largely unacknowledged, namely that all life is made…… Continue reading Spec Tech: Of Mucus, Bile, and the Indigestibility of Wood (or What We Talk About When We Talk About the Digestive System)

Spec Tech: Born This Way (Thoughts on Sex, Genetic Determinism, and James Tiptree, Jr.)

I first read James Tiptree, Jr.’s beautiful story, “Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death” back when I was a teenager and it has remained with me ever since, a mental touchstone, a reminder of the wonders that can be accomplished in just a few thousand words. It is a story of love, the…… Continue reading Spec Tech: Born This Way (Thoughts on Sex, Genetic Determinism, and James Tiptree, Jr.)

Spec Tech: Easy Recipe for Making a Transgenic Human

There are many news reports about gene therapy, about how we may be able to ‘fix’ genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia, cancer, and cystic fibrosis. Simply put, scientists and doctors are trying to find ways to deliver a rectifying normal gene into a patient. This type of procedure is called somatic cell gene…… Continue reading Spec Tech: Easy Recipe for Making a Transgenic Human

Spec Tech: Evolution, Devolution, microRNAs, and You

In my previous column on “Monsters” I discussed the genetic basis for the Cyclops and the Werewolf. Then, in “More Monsters,” I discussed the homeotic genes that act as master regulators of organ identity. But really those genes are so last century. They all code for proteins, and it is the proteins that do the…… Continue reading Spec Tech: Evolution, Devolution, microRNAs, and You

Spec Tech: More Monsters or The Beast with a Million Eyes

Last year (September 2, 2010), I posted a Spec Tech column on “Monsters.” In that column I looked at the genetic basis for the Cyclops and the Werewolf. Here I’ll consider mutations that involve homeotic genes and the monstrous results that can arise. First we’ll look at how homeotic genes function in a flower, and…… Continue reading Spec Tech: More Monsters or The Beast with a Million Eyes