The idea of an a universal basic income (UBI) has been around for some time. It's a bold idea that has the potential to fundamentally change the way our society works, and there aren't enough of those. Whether it'd be a positive change is a different question.
The UBI is one of three big ideas historian Rutger Bregman discusses in Utopia for Realists. The other two are open borders and radically shorter work weeks.
The essence of the book is interesting and it inspired me to read more about president Nixon, who had a few things going on that were at least as interesting as the Watergate scandal. One of them was he came close to introducing the UBI in the United States.
Unfortunately, it's hard to appreciate the book's tone, which at times feels like it was written with an audience of 12 year old school children in mind. Neither can I recommend it if you're interested in a balanced discussion of the disadvantages as well as the advantages associated with the UBI and the other topics it covers. Bregman is a polemicist more than he is a scholar, as will be obvious if you look for some of his recent media appearances.
Finally, for your enjoyment here is the photo of Rupert Murdoch that first made me aware of the book's existence when I came across it on Twitter:
March 14, 2019
- The UK Biobank releases its first 50,000 exomes, out of a planned 500,000. Initial findings here
- Thread on academic versus industry careers for geneticists
- Is DNA methylation driven by need to silence transposable elements? (review)
- Is alternative splicing really that relevant in humans?
- A lousy experiment
March 7, 2019
- The last time I needed data on recombination in the human genome I went back to HapMap, which was published in 2005. In human genetics terms, that's a different era. Now deCODE has come out with a recombination map based on whole-genome sequencing. One interesting insight: Recombination is mutagenic. "Both sexes show an ~50-fold increase in [de novo mutations] within 1 kb of crossovers, but the types of DNMs differ considerably between the sexes". In addition, they find 34 loci associated with recombination, in addition to the already known PRDM9
- On phenotypic screening. Do human knockout-based projects qualify as phenotypic screening?
February 28, 2019
- Matt Disney and others are thinking about targeting non-coding RNAs like microRNAs instead of proteins. I agree with Derek Lowe that it's likely that there is a lot of unknown biology that those RNAs are responsible for. This could also explain the many, many GWAS hits that are noncoding and don't seem to be associated with any changes in gene expression either
- How loss of function variants can help with deciding if a gene is a safe drug target. Another recent manuscript on the same topic and by the same group here
- The tissue-dependency of GWAS hits. Data browser here
- Survey of high-confidence variants associated with monogenic diseases and their penetrance in the UK Biobank
- New GWAS loci for Alzheimer's, COPD and autism
- "Illumina CEO asks if world is ready" for the $100 genome. Reading between the lines, the world may be ready but Illumina doesn't seem to be yet
February 21, 2019
- Hundreds of cell types tracked during development, resulting in a global view of how organs develop. This is for mice, for humans you'll want to check out the Human Cell Atlas
- There's a genetic correlation between cannabis use and depression. Unfortunately, there isn't enough statistical power to tell which causes which
- There are people who have four types of color-detecting cone cells in their eyes instead of the usual three. They can perceive a greater variety of colors (tetrachromats). There's a genetic basis for this, and it may be possible to identify additional people with this kind of super-vision in genetic cohorts like the UK Biobank
- Somatic mutations contribute to human disease risk, not just for cancer but probably also for cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's and others. Detecting these mutations and distinguishing them from experimental artifacts has been a challenge. FERMI is a barcoding-based method designed for this purpose
- How to classify the different sequencing technologies out there. Very helpful
- If universal healthcare coverage is the goal, there are alternatives to single payer. I have experienced both systems: Austria, where I'm from, has a system similar to the one described in the article, and England, where I've lived for 12 years, has single payer. My experience with the Austrian system was more positive
- What has Theranos' Liz Holmes been up to since the publication of Bad Blood?
- BioMarin is looking for a human genetics or bioinformatics summer intern. Permanent positions are also available (see last week's post)
February 14, 2019
- Structural variants called from the UK Biobank SNP chip data, plus associations with 2,000 phenotypes
- Pushback on a recent report that decreased diversity in the gut microbiome is associated with schizophrenia
- Prevention seems to become increasingly important for Alzheimer's. Spoiler: Genetic testing plays a role. The transcript contains a misleading statement though: "There are genetic mutations that cause Alzheimer’s, but they’re found in less than one percent of the general population". Actually, the APOE ε4 allele, which is associated with the highest AD risk, is much more common than that
- People with a high polygenic risk score for Alzheimer's seem to invest differently - but is it an artifact? Spoiler: Yes it is
- "smaller teams have tended to disrupt science and technology with new ideas and opportunities,whereas larger teams have tended to develop existing ones". This is aligned with my own experience
- Genetic variants associated with gene expression (eQTLs) are useful for interpreting non-coding GWAS hits and for identifying causative genes. However, they differ between tissues, making interpretation challenging when no data is available for the tissue where the disease actually happens. This paper shows the value of creating tissue-specific eQTL data (in this case, retinal eQTLs for AMD)
- BioMarin is expanding its genetics department (here and here). I don't know of any place where geneticists can make a bigger real-life difference. Highly recommended!
February 9, 2019
Why are we able to consciously perceive only so little? Every moment, our senses collect a large amount of information including sounds, smells, visual input and pressure, temperature and proprioception readings from all over our bodies. However, we're only consciously aware of a tiny and heavily filtered part of that information. Why is that? Why can't our consciousness deal with a larger fraction of the input data? Why can't we pay attention to many things at the same time? Why is our consciousness pointy instead of wide?
There are plenty of books trying to define consciousness, but there is much less literature on why human consciousness is the way it is. Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation addresses this question indirectly by considering different kinds of minds, like those of people with autism and those of animals. As it turns out, people with autism and animals both have access to more unfiltered sensory input, which in both cases can be overwhelming under circumstances that are fine for non-autistic people.
Unlike much of popular science writing, Grandin's books are firmly based on her own experience of working with animals and being autistic. As a result, they avoid being overly theoretical. Her writing style reflects this: She cares about her subjects without being sentimental. I haven't come across any science writer who combines extensive personal experience with published research as well as she does.
Animals in Translation came out in 2006 and some of the research may benefit from an update, but the vast majority of insights this book delivers are timeless.