Showing 11 - 20 of 48 annotations tagged with the keyword "Genetic Engineering"

Mendel's Dwarf

Mawer, Simon

Last Updated: Jun-15-2010
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel interweaves facts about the history of genetics with compelling fictional characters and plots in two connected stories. The primary story traces the life and work of the fictional Benedict Lambert, brilliant 20th Century geneticist, and an achondroplastic dwarf; his research is to discover the gene mutation which has caused his condition. He is also the great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel.

The life and genetic work of Gregor Mendel comprise the second story. Intersecting with Gregor Mendel's 19th Century scientific experiments to artificially fertilize pea plants is Lambert's affair with married librarian Jean Piercey. When Jean becomes pregnant, she decides on termination after learning from Benedict that there is "a fifty-fifty change of ending up like me . . . a second Benedict, another squat and crumpled creature betrayed by mutation and the courtly dance of chromosomes . . . " (180).

By the novel's end, Mendel's work has been published, and dismissed; Benedict Lambert has discovered the location of the gene mutation which causes achondroplastic dwarfism, publishes the results in Nature, and is asked to make a presentation on "the New Eugenics". Jean regrets the abortion, and wants Benedict's child, but a ?normal" one. In an attempt to help Jean in her quest, Benedict uses his genetic knowledge, his laboratory privileges, and his sperm without the knowledge or consent of Jean's husband.

In the lab with eight of Jean's fertilized embryos Lambert must decide: "Four of the embryos are proto-Benedicts, proto-dwarf; the other four are, for want of a better word normal. How should he choose?" The results of this scientific and personal act of fertilization are unexpected and tragic.

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Some 40 years after a ceasefire that ended the Cylon wars, the 12 human colonies across the galaxy have been lulled into a state of calm complacence.  This is abruptly interrupted by a Cylon attack that annihilates billions of humans, leaving only 50,000 survivors in a small fleet of ships, led by the one remaining ship from the Colonial Fleet, the Battlestar Galactica.  Fleeing the Cylons, they set out to find the legendary 13th Colony: Earth.

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Summary:

This story follows John and Aileen Crowley and their three children, the two youngest of whom have a rare "untreatable" genetic disease. Pompe disease gradually degenerates muscle until patients cannot breathe or sit up; it also dangerously enlarges the heart. Determined to try to save his children, John Crowley started up a biotech company to develop an enzyme that would replace the non-functioninging one in his children. Others researchers in other companies were trying different approaches. Everyone made mistakes and created problems along the way.

Finally, in "the mother of all experiments," the four promising drug developments were tested against each other in a double-blind trial. After five years of development, the "special medicine" was finally given to the Crowley children. Daughter Megan, a real fighter and outgoing personality, won over the hearts of the researchers. Interesting conflict of interest issues increase the tension in this race for a cure.

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My Sister's Keeper

Picoult, Jodi

Last Updated: Nov-22-2009
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel follows, in a roughly temporal manner with flashbacks, the evolution of the illness of a child afflicted with promyelocytic leukemia and her family's attempt to save her. At core is the issue of conceiving a child with the hope that she (Anna) will be able to provide what her older, ill sister (Kate) needs to survive. The initial need is met by cord blood transfusion, however, as time passes, Kate relapses, and technology makes new demands on the obligatory donor.

Eventually Anna, at age 13, requests emancipation from the health care control of her beleaguered parents. The reader is introduced to the dilemma as the adolescent donor seeks legal help. Over the course of the novel, which is structured with a revolving first person viewpoint, the reader becomes acquainted with the personal perspectives of many characters, but with no warning of the ultimate outcome of the family drama.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Triggered in part by a trip to the Galápagos Islands, the author interweaves two parallel narratives: Darwin's "journey toward evolution" along with the related work of Alfred Russel Wallace; and the author's own journey through life, partially disabled and dependent on the specially fitted shoes that help him to walk.  Together these two narratives develop "all I have come to understand about chance and change, fear and transformation, variation and cultural context, ideas about the body that question the definition and existence of difference in all of our lives" (xvii).

Born with an unnamed congenital condition in which his fibulae are absent along with other lower limb "abnormalities," Fries underwent five major reconstructive surgeries as a child, but after those, what helped him most were special shoes that were fitted to his special body, assisting him to walk.  As an adult, however, he begins to experience back pain and knee problems.  The memoir relates, both in flashback, and in the present day, Fries's quest for a proper pair of shoes that will help him avoid yet another surgery -- the shoes he has been wearing are 20 years old and no longer do the job.  We meet Dr. Mendotti, who treated him like a peculiar specimen and offered a pharmacologic way out of his pain; shoemaker Eneslow, in a dingy Union Square office, whose shoes not only fit Fries well, but were festive in appearance -- "I felt both normal and special" (17); other practitioners of orthotics who try but fail to construct shoes that relieve Fries's pain, and finally, the gifted, patient orthoticist, Tom Coburn, who persists until he is able to provide shoes that work.  The shoes have been adapted for Fries's body, just as man has constructed adaptations that allow him to live in a variety of climates and circumstances.  Conversely, Fries, convinced he "can adapt to the circumstances in which my body places me (169)," draws from Darwin, whom he quotes: "individual differences are highly important for us, as they afford materials for natural selection to accumulate" (169).
 
Darwinian connections are invoked throughout the narrative.  The peculiar configuration of Fries's feet and shoes help him to ascend a series of mountain ladders while his partner, Ian -- who usually has to assist Fries with such physical maneuvers -- suddenly becomes fearful of the height and exposure;  back problems might have developed even without his congenital abnormalities because evolution of the capacity to walk upright included the tendency toward back pain; the role of chance in natural selection and the role of chance in the physical fact of congenital conditions; the positive role that his partner Ian's attention deficit disorder (ADD) could have played in the days of hunter-gatherers and the cultural context in which ADD is now considered to be "abnormal."
 
Fries discusses his fears -- both rational and irrational -- as well as his awareness of stigma, difference, and sameness.  The context of these discussions is usually a reminiscence about vacations in far-flung countries (Thailand, the Galápagos, Bali, Alaska, the Canadian Rockies) and physically challenging domestic locales (a Colorado River raft trip, the Beehive Mountain in Acadia National Park).  He  occasionally brings into the discussion his homosexuality, especially as his physical deformity affected sexual encounters.  The relationship between Fries and Ian is woven throughout the memoir as one of understanding, mutual need and benefit.  As the memoir ends, Fries worries about the likelihood he will need a wheelchair, but is at the same time gathering confidence in his ability to ride the Easy Flyer bicycle that Ian has discovered at the local bike shop.

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Bioethics at the Movies

Shapshay, S., ed.

Last Updated: Feb-20-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

Intended to "spark a philosophical dialogue among readers and in classrooms, clarifying, refining, and challenging the ethical positions people hold on a great many bioethical topics"(1), Bioethics at the Movies contains 21 essays discussing bioethical issues, from abortion and cloning to disability narratives and end-of-life care, in relation to various films. The two dozen authors come from the United States, Spain, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom, and the majority have their academic homes in Departments of Philosophy. For the most part, the essays use one particular film as a springboard to discuss a bioethical topic, such as terminating pregnancies (The Cider House Rules), marketing organs (Dirty Pretty Things), and memory deletion (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Two films get a pair of essays (Gattaca and Million Dollar Baby), and several authors cover more than one film. In addition to the aforementioned films, Wit, Citizen Ruth, Bicentennial Man, I, Robot, Babe, Multiplicity, Star Trek: Nemesis, Ghost in the Shell, Dad, Critical Care, Big Fish, Soylent Green, Extreme Measures, Talk to Her, and Ikiru are closely covered.

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Summary:

The film opens with the discovery of Dr. Victor Frankenstein's will in his Transylvanian village. A skeleton, presumably Dr. Frankenstein's, and a man wrestle for the box holding the will. The man wins, takes it to a town meeting where the will is read and calls for the transfer of the property to the dead scientist's grandson, Frederick. Following this scene we meet the grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a surgeon who is busy instructing medical students in clinical neuroanatomy (comparing the brain to a cauliflower). When asked about his grandfather by a medical student, Freddy, who pronounces the family name "Fron kon steen", declares that Victor was "a cuckoo". The student is relentless in pursuing the family ties, exasperating Freddy, who finally plunges a scalpel into his thigh, a sight gag paying homage to Peter Sellers' stabbing himself with a letter opener in A Shot in the Dark (1964). When the courier from Transylvania arrives, he persuades Freddy to return to his ancestral castle for the execution of the will. A hilarious railroad platform scene in which Freddy bids goodbye to his "beautiful, flat-chested" (as described in the online original etext of the script by Gene Wilder) fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), only highlights the incredibly neurotic natures of the two lovers -- Wilder as a possessed but wacky scientist and Kahn as a narcissistic and apparently remote and shallow woman.

In Transylvania, Freddy and the viewers meet the remainder of the major characters. Inga (Teri Garr), a bosomy and mindless but beautiful and dedicated blonde, escorts him to the castle, where he meets the hunchback Igor, played by the incomparable Marty Feldman, who instructs Freddy, with one of the lines all Young Frankenstein addicts love to quote, to "walk this way", by which he means with a limp and a cane, not directions to anywhere at all. After remarking that the huge castle doors have huge knockers (which they do) -- which Teri Garr winsomely mistakes for a compliment on her equally huge knockers -- Freddy and his entourage enter the castle and meet Frau Blücher (played magnificently by Cloris Leachman), the spinster who keeps the castle, nourishing an undying flame for Freddy's dead grandfather. Soon Freddy and Inga discover, by means of a secret passageway behind a  -- surprise! surprise! -- revolving bookcase wall in Freddy's room, his grandfather's hidden subterranean laboratory (Brooks used the same electrical apparatus as the 1931 Frankenstein film) and scientific journals. With the materials and methods now at hand, Freddy undergoes a spiritual transformation, embracing his forebear's obsession with creating life from dead bodies, rejecting his earlier rejection of Victor's work as "Doo-Doo!".

At this juncture we move into the scientific creation mode and of course meet the Monster, exuberantly portrayed by the talented Peter Boyle. When Igor tries to steal a brain from a neighboring morgue there occurs the infamous mix-up of an "Abnormal" brain (labelled "DO NOT USE THIS BRAIN!") for the intended brain of H. Delbrück ("the finest natural philosopher, internal medicine diagnostician and chemical therapist of this century" and also the author of 17 cookbooks) making at least this viewer wonder if Mel Brooks had in mind a real scientific genius, Max Delbrück, who had received, only 5 years before, a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for his work on bacteriophages.

The predicted spoofs ensue: the actual process of transforming the very large corpse of Peter Boyle into the very large body of the living Monster (with Inga remarking, after Freddy states that for the experiment to be a success, the monster must have enlarged body parts, that he "vould have an enormous schwanzstucker" -- a pseudo-German/Yiddish word that everyone in the audience immediately comprehends); the inclusion of Gene Wilder's rendition of the legendary exclamation, "It's alive!" by Colin Clive in the 1931 Frankenstein; the monster's mercurial disposition; the wildly comic scene with the Monster meeting the Blind Man (Gene Hackman); the Monster's fascination with music and antipathy to fire -- they all give rise to set pieces of Brooks's unique mix of lowbrow comedy with intellectual puns, Yiddish asides and the ubiquitous combination of visual and physical jokes.

After Elizabeth unexpectedly arrives in Transylvania we witness an apparently unlikely, and therefore uproariously believable, liaison with the Monster outside the castle, with Madeline Kahn eventually taking on the classic Marge Simpson type hairdo of Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. The last important scene before the ending involves Freddy nostalgically summoning the Monster back to his natal castle for a transference of Freddy's calm brain to the Monster's. The ending, with the Monster a fully acculturated and now sophisticated man about town, and with Freddy and Inga still in love in Transylvania, is a brilliant win-win result for Freddy, Inga, Elizabeth and the Monster, although hardly predictable. Without giving away too much of the denouement, suffice it to say that the movie ends on a high note transforming, as it were, a linguistic pun into a musical one.

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When Jamie Heywood, the eldest of three brothers in a tight New England family of engineers, learns that his middle brother Stephen (they all are in their 20’s at the outset of this drama which begins, for them, in early 1998) has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he has just assumed the position of entrepreneur in technology transfer at Gerald Edelman’s Neurosciences Institute, the prestigious think tank of the 1972 Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, in La Jolla, California.

Jamie quickly announces his resignation and simultaneously his decision to devote his life to helping his brother in the only way he can--as manager, CEO, COO and staff of, initially, a loosely organized team effort to develop a cure for ALS, an insidious wasting disease of the nervous system that progressively leaves the person with the merest remnants of voluntary motor function.

Jamie’s resignation and his move from the West to East coast is but the mildest of changes in the weather for what becomes a perfect storm of technology recruiting, fund-raising, career-rebuilding and the emotional equivalents of El Niño, profoundly affecting at least four families, three of them Heywoods: Stephen Heywood, the strapping carpenter/house-restorer with ALS, and his wife, Wendy; Jamie, and Melinda, his belly-dancing wife with a PhD in medieval French literature; the brothers’ mother, Peggy, and father, John; and, lastly, the author and his father, Jerome, and mother, Ponnie (a Polish diminutive).

Concomitant with Stephen’s development of ALS, Ponnie begins to evidence the dementia of Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, also known as progressive supranuclear palsy, a form of brain decay uncannily similar to ALS. (Fortunately for the Heywoods, ALS involves only the motor nerves, not the cognitive apparatus.)

The author’s decision to include his family’s ordeal is wise, generous and instructive. The Heywoods and Weiners are both engineering families with an academic engineer as the pater familias and both are trying their best to cope with a deteriorating illness that dismantles the center of all cerebral engineering activity, the brain. The comparison of the diseases and the responses of all the players involved are culturally and psychologically dissected with the author’s trademark precision and kindness. But this book, as the title indicates, is more about the keeper than the brother.

Within minutes of his learning of Stephen’s diagnosis, Jamie becomes a man possessed. He moves quickly, as though by intuition and almost a fated skill, from technology transfer to technology-bricolage; genetic therapy on the fly; and people-, funding- and support-transfer. In fact, when there is no transfer involved, Jamie creates in order to transfer.

Like Gregor Samsa, in the short story by Franz Kafk, from whom Weiner also deftly borrows another parable, "An Imperial Message," (to illustrate, metaphorically, the pathophysiology of ALS as a disease in which neural messages, like the Imperial Message, go awry), Jamie undergoes a metamorphosis, albeit admittedly much less drastic than Gregor’s. He molts his undergraduate degree in engineering at MIT to emerge as a self-appointed manager of any and all ALS research and gene therapy in the U.S. that might help retard the progress of his brother’s illness.

Recruiting, petitioning, nourishing, cajoling, funding, and courting researchers and clinicians alike, Jamie meets, entertains, enlists and co-ordinates the efforts of gene therapy researchers and other medical scientists. He becomes a fund-raiser with the help of Melinda and her family of belly dancers, raising $240,000 as a result of the First Annual Belly Dance Extravaganza. His efforts involve the Heywood and Weiner family members, as epicentric waves of activity inevitably affect them all.

We watch, through Weiner’s eyes (and the diaries of Wendy and Melinda, whom he cites with permission), as the four families experience the predictable mood shifts that accompany a devastating illness and the great adventure of a risky attempt to work a miracle (a miracle that Jerome E. Groopman grumpily and stuffily bemoans in a cited Wall Street Journal editorial): excitement when a genetically engineered ALS mouse outlives its cohorts and money starts to flow; and disillusionment, when Stephen’s disease relentlessly progresses, Jamie’s marriage dissolves for a lack of boundaries, as Melinda, Jamie’s wife, records in her diary, and the author’s mother slips deeper into a dementia that Lucretius, Weiner’s authorial inspiration of the book, would easily recognize as part of the world explored in his famous treatise De Rerum Natura.

By the end of the book, there is an air of exhaustion yet surprising calm--perhaps the calm after the storm--as we witness the normalcy of Stephen, in his motorized wheelchair, playing with his son. As Stephen repeatedly affirms to Weiner, now a family friend and no longer merely a reporter, "I’m fine."

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Inochi

Murakami, Takashi

Last Updated: Jul-31-2008
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Summary:

Inochi (Japanese for "life" or "spirit") are four human-sized figures with bulbous, alien-like heads over small bodies made of (plastic) flesh and machinery. Murakami directed videos to accompany the Inochi, consisting of a film sequence of an Inochi in school with a schoolboy-like crush on a girl; the Inochi tries to fit in, gets in trouble, and doesn't understand what is happening to its body when it begins to respond to the crush.

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Summary:

This 1995 mixed media sculpture consists of life-sized mannequins of children moulded to one another, naked except for black sneakers, and some of them deformed by genitals on their faces.

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