Today, we'll talk about the research that makes drug design possible. First, scientists must learn the language of the body, which at its most fundamental level, is the same as the language of the solar system: physics. It might not seem that way because our bodies feel so unpredictable, but there is a sublime order underneath the chaos: how molecules talk to each other, what turns certain genes on and off, why some cells become blood cells and others platelets. Why some people get diseases and others don't.
How does genetic engineering work? What is a gene therapy? Over our lives, our DNA changes and mutates in the process of aging. Our bodies are very protective of our genes, and our immune system exists to detect and destroy any items that don't belong, like viruses or bacteria. In order to bypass the body's natural defense and DNA-repair system, scientists use vectors, Trojan horses that sneak in therapeutic DNA past the defensive walls.
Can we inherit memories? In 2014, Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler conducted an experiment to test this. They exposed male mice to an aromatic compound (acetophenone) whose receptor gene (Olfr151) had been sequenced. The mice were not born with a blank slate. The shadow of their father’s experience was cast over them. In humans, we have characterised this effect in families struck by famine, war and disease. Our ancestors tales are part of us. Not spiritually, but epigenetically in the spools of our DNA. Who our parents were is more a part of us then we could know. Epigenetics is then the bridge between nature and nurture. A resolution of Lamarck and Darwin and very likely the future of personalized medicine.
It’s all over the news. Elon Musk has done it again. From SpaceX to Tesla, and now Neuralink and Kernel. This man wants to merge computers with the brain, and he wants to do it in the next four to five years. And no, he is not a believer in the coming age of robot domination or artificially intelligent overlords. He wants humans to evolve with artificial intelligence, not behind it. But, enough about Elon. Let’s get to the science.
It seems that somehow, from a dense spaghetti-network of over 100 billion neurons and glial cells* that the experience of consciousness arises. Continuing from last week’s newsletter on the subjective experience of consciousness, today we look at the objective cutting-edge neuroscience behind the phenomenon. Today we’re starting with the most well-studied basic unit of mental hardware: the neuron.