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Robert CooperRSS Feed of this column.

I have given up on categories. I did a BA in physics, a PhD in molecular biology, and now a postdoc in a bioengineering department. So call that what you will, I'm interested in using a quantitative... Read More »

The US Supreme Court recently sided with patient advocacy groups that a company cannot patent your genes.  Sounds like a pretty clear case, but the decision also creates some exceedingly odd loopholes, and even loopholes within loopholes, to say nothing of the fact that Justice Scalia dissented with the uncontroversial, basic science introduction to the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court just released a groundbreaking decision about the ability to patent genes – the assembly instruction for life.  

Amid much discussion about potential implications for the biotech industry, a separate, extremely troubling aspect of this decision has largely slid under the radar: one of the SCOTUS Justices dissented with basic science saying he is "unable to affirm... knowledge or even my own belief" in high school biology

Deciding who gets a lung transplant - and thereby who doesn’t - is not easy.  Lungs can only be transplanted from people who are organ donors, who are brain dead, and who died in such a way that their organs remain intact.  Problem is, there are not enough people marking the “organ donor” box on their driver’s license to give everyone on the transplant list a chance to live.

The music-recording industry has been under pressure lately, as it struggles to adapt to the age of the internet.  This is the second major structural revolution to challenge the recording industry in the past few decades, the first being when video killed the radio star.  Music videos surged in popularity (and budget) in the '90s, but during the '00s (pronounced "uh-ohs") music video budgets seemed to have plateaued and begun to decline.  In fact, just 3 of the 20 most expensive (inflation-adjusted) music videos of all time were produced after 2000.  The most expensive of all time remains Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream" at $10 million.
In the past few centuries, our understanding of bacteria has progressed from mysterious medieval vapours, to the microscopic "animalcules" of van Leeuwenhoek, to the germ theory of disease à la Pasteur, to the realizations that bacteria outnumber us within our own bodies and that good "probiotic" bacteria actually make us healthier.  Now, a new study seems to have discovered a Batman bacterium.  Well, technically, the bacterium was already well-known; the discovery was to show that this prokaryotic Bruce Wayne is, in fact, Batman.
In some Chinese cities, breathing has recently become demonstrably hazardous to your health.  According to the US embassy's monitoring station, air pollution has skipped over unhealthy, exceeded hazardous, and gone straight to " crazy bad".  No, literally.  

A "crazy bad" category was programmed into the system's automated twitter feed, presumably assuming it would never be triggered.  "Crazy bad" has now been rebranded as the more reassuring "beyond index".  Whatever you call it, the extreme smog is not only crazy bad for Chinese, it's hurting those across the Pacific as well.