Book Review - My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall

“Understanding what chimpanzees are like has made me realize that we humans are not so different from other animals as we used to think. What makes us most different is that we are far more clever than even the cleverest chimp, and we have words. We have a spoken language. We can tell stories about what happened a week or a year or a decade ago. We can plan for the future, and we can discuss things - one person's idea can grow and change as other people contribute their ideas. Great ideas become greater, problems are solved.”

  • Jane Goodall, My Life with the Chimpanzees

Jane Goodall shares her story for rest of us. Her love for animals, and nature comes out through every word of this book. I was absolutely thrilled to read this book. It is a wonderful book by a wonderful person.

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Book Review - The Computer From Pascal to Von Neumann

The Computer From Pascal to Von Neumann is a computer history book by Herman H. Goldstine. It surveys the history from the laws of thought by inventors across ages. It goes from earliest philosophers like Pascal, to mathematicians like George Boole, to implementors like Von Neumann.

The author reveals how these inventors built their theories on top of others. Almost everyone involved in this exercise had a shared objective for computers.

These inventors wanted to "free" mankind from the repetitive but mundane tasks.

And these inventors lived in different eras like Leibniz lived in 1600s, Charles Babbage in 1800s and Dijskstra (1930-2002).

When introducing Charles Babbage, author directly goes the motivation that drove the inventor.

The theme of Leibniz— to free men from slavery by the automation of dull but simple - tasks was next taken up by one of the most unusual figures in modern intellectual history, Charles Babbage

And here is how Dijskstra explains how and why Computers will exceed human reasoning.

In the long run I expect computing science to transcend its parent disciplines, mathematics and logic, by effectively realizing a significant part of Leibniz’s Dream of providing symbolic calculation as an alternative to human reasoning. - Dijskstra

(Please note the difference between "mimicking" and "providing an alternative to": alternatives are allowed to be better.)

Author also associated United States Military and Government to various advancements in Computers. The final chapters gave references to when other parts of the world got their first computer. I noted that India's first computers were in 1960s with Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Here are some interesting historical photos from this book.

Essays in Humanism by Albert Einstein - Book Review

Essays in HumanismEssays in Humanism by Albert Einstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There we Einstein's thoughts on various topics. He desired a World-Government, powerful and in control of Nuclear Weapons. Had a balanced view of both Socialism and Capitalism. Readily allowed his critics to address their rebuttal and answered that.

He writes In memoriam for fellow scientists and many other great leaders of the world. He feels guilty for being associated with development of Atom Bomb and urges Nations to work towards peace.

He shares ample stories about the difficulties Jews have through, supports the Uprising of Warsaw ghetto.

The books reveals social and personal side of Albert Einstein.

A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Steinberg

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and Unthinkable power to control evolution by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Steinberg is a book on gene-editing and a technology called CRISPR.

The book is a personal narration of Jennifer Doudna as she explains the development of CRISPR and it's discovery for use in gene editing. Rather than a review, this are notes while reading this book. CRISPR is molecular structure found in Bacteria, but now more popular term, commonly associated with a gene editing technique.

Given the technical nature of this article, I must have used the text from the sources only with slight modification for explanation. References should give the materials I consulted to write this post. In you notice technical inaccuracy, I aplogize, please point out, and I will correct it.

Terms

As I reader, I found reviewing biological terms helped me understand the material better.

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DNA, the language of life. Figure from A Crack in Creation book.

Human Body is made of cells, in-fact trillions of cells. Each of these cells contain something called DNA. DNA is like recipe, just like a food recipe, but for building and maintaining living organisms.

Cells use DNA to make proteins. Proteins are the workhorses of the body, they do all the stuff we need to do to survive, from digesting food to making other proteins. Proteins are molecules made up of cells.

DNA is made up of a long combination of some very basic organic components called Adenine, Thymine, Guanine and Cytosine. Human DNA consists of about 3 billion of these. The sequence of these determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.

In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structure called chromosomes. A Chromosome is a DNA containing structure.

RNA are like cousins of DNA, which has an oxygen atom with it. One type called messager RNA, mRNA, act as carrier of information to different cells, carrying information from DNA to those cells to produce proteins.

So far, in above definitions, we didn't emphasize on heredity , that is, sending information from parent to child yet. As soon as we start talking about heredity, we use the term, Genes.

A gene is the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. Each chromosome of human body has many genes.

If we take a single cell from human body, and find out the entire set of genetic information in the chromosomes of that cell, we call that a Genome. A Genome, from Gen e and Chromos ome, is the entire set of genetic instructions found inside a cell.

CRISPR in bacteria

Single celled organisms like Bacteria were using a technique to fight off some diseases. The term CRISPR was given to an identified characteristic in Bacterial DNA sequence, which was used to produce a protein called CAS-9, which in turn, helped to kill the enemy virus.

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and is a family of DNA Sequences found in genomes of bacteria. CAS9 stands for CRISPR associated protein 9.

The bacteria were found to capture snippets of DNA from invading viruses and use them to create DNA segments known as CRISPR arrays. The CRISPR arrays allow the bacteria to "remember" the viruses. If the viruses attack again, the bacteria produce RNA segments from the CRISPR arrays to target the viruses' DNA. The bacteria then use Cas9 to cut the DNA apart and kill the virus.

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CRISPR in Bacteria. Figure from Crack in the Creation.

CRISPR Shaping Human Genome

The CRISPR-Cas9 system works similarly in the lab. Researchers create a small piece of RNA with a short "guide" sequence that attaches (binds) to a specific target sequence of DNA in a genome. The RNA also binds to the Cas9 enzyme. As in bacteria, the modified RNA is used to recognize the DNA sequence, and the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA at the targeted location. Although Cas9 is the enzyme that is used most often, other enzymes (for example Cpf1) can also be used. Once the DNA is cut, researchers use the cell's own DNA repair machinery to add or delete pieces of genetic material, or to make changes to the DNA by replacing an existing segment with a customized DNA sequence

When CRISPR was determind that it could be used in lab on living organisms, the potential for shaping the genome unfolded.

First time ever, in over 100,000 years, we have ability to shape the Homo Sapien evolution by mechanisms other than random mutation and natural selection.

In humans, CRISPR can be used to do a precise repair and produce a normal protein from a non-functional gene.

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CRISPR enables scientists to edit and fix single incorrect letters of DNA from 3.2 billion letters that comprise the human genome. It can also be used to perform even more complicated edits to Human DNA.

A relatively straightforward DNA editing has transformed every genetic disease, at-least the diseases for which we know the underlying mutation(s) into a potentially treatable disease.

CRISPR on Animals

CRISPR has been used to create gene edited mouse wherein the genome of the embroyo was edited and introduced back into womb to have an offspring with the desirable characteristics embedded at time of birth.

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Gene Edited Mouse. Figure from A Crack in Creation.

And we have used gene editing to create animals desirable characteristics

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Gene edited animals. Figure from A crack in creation.

This is currently used in practice. Like Recombinetics uses gene editing for dehorning cattle, a safer method than physical dehorning using hot iron-rods.

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Pigs as Bio Reactors

An important field of bio technology is regenerative medicine, desired by human society who are fighting of some disease eithe naturally or have lost some ability due an accident.

Many scientists see the pig itself as a source of medicine. It is seen that we might be using pigs as bioreactors to produce valuable drugs like therapeutic human proteins, which are too complex to synthesize from scratch and can only be produced in living cells.

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Scientists have already been looking to other transgenic animals to produce these biopharmaceutical drugs, or farmaceuticals, as they’re colloquially called.

Revivicor is a company that is using CRISPR to produce regenerative medicine, following the process exactly outlined above. A workflow from their website gives the details on how Pigs are used as Bio Reactors for regenerative medicine.

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Malaria Resistant Mosquitos

The deadliest animal on earth, Mosquito can also be killed using CRISPR. The idea seems to create malaria resistant mosquitoes using gene editing so that the entire family is disabled from being a carriers of malaria.

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CRISPR for Therapeutics

CRISPR can be utilized to edit the germ cells outside the body. The edited germ cells can be planted inside for beneficiary aspects.

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Ex-vivo CRISPR therapy. A Crack In The Creation.

For targeted drug delivery, like fixing the lung or particular muscle instead of injecting the drug into blood stream.

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In-vivo CRISPR therapy. A Crack In the Creation.

Adult Homo sapiens are among the last animals to be treated with CRISPR, human cell: have been subjected to more CRISPR gene editing than those of any other organism.

Scientists have applied CRISPR in lung cells to correct the genetic mutation that causes cystic fibrosis, in blood cells to correct the mutations that cause sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia, and in muscle cells to correct the mutations that cause Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Scientists have used CRISPR to edit and repair mutations in stem cells, which can then be coaxed to transform into virtually any cell or tissue type in the body.

Even as CRISPR continues to be useful, it's power as a technology and it's potential misuse is a concern for everyone.

Whether we'll ever have the intellectual and moral capacity to guide our own genetic destiny is an open question - one that has been in my mind since I began to realize what CRISPR is capable of. - Jennifer Doudna

And Jennifer Doudna shares her stance as she says, that the nature will still be our supreme master.

Any mutations that CRISPR might make—intentional or not—would almost certainly pale in comparison to the genetic storm that rages inside each of us from birth to death. As one writer put it, “Genetic editing would be a droplet in the maelstrom of naturally churning genomes.” If CRISPR could eliminate a disease-causing mutation in the embryo with high certainty and only a slight risk of introducing a second off-target mutation elsewhere, the potential payoffs might well outweigh the dangers. - Jennifer Doudna

References

Mahatma Gandhi

We might have heard about Einstein’s Famous quote on Gandhi. Few years ago, I discovered that the quote is from a book by Albert Einstein with Title “Essays in Humanism”

Mahatma Gandhi

A LEADER OF his people, unsupported by any outward authority: a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor the mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force; a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the up lifting of his people and the betterment of their lot; a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior.

Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

Ref: Essays in humanism - Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955

Covid-19 "Six Months In"

Six-months into pandemic there is a lot of settled knowledge about Coronavirus now. This medium article - The Most Likely Way You’ll Get Infected With Covid-19 covered it very well.

What we know

  1. Surfaces don’t seem to matter as much as originally thought.
    1. SARS-CoV-2 does not spread through surfaces.
    2. No need to disinfect food, parcels, etc.
  2. Close range droplets are the new leading theory and Aerosol transmission has gradually gained acceptance
    1. Coronavirus Spreads from infected person exhaling and non-infected inhaling.
    2. A tiny droplets of virus spread in air in trajectory less than 6 feet.
    3. Best way to prevent this - "Wear Mask".

Six months in, "Wearing Masks" is the most effective way to protect ourselves. Both to avoid the spread and also to protect ourselves from getting infected. That's it.

Incidentally, the first strong support for wearing mask as reducing infections came via statistical analysis by Jeremy Howard in the article from May 15 - Masks help stop the spread of coronavirus

Best way for us to fight the virus - "Wearing Mask".

Occamy Minecraft Club

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If your child, between age kindergarten to 3rd grade is interested in Learning Minecraft, we have a new club called "Occamy Minecraft Club". The classes are taught by my Son, Siddhartha, and kids learning from other kids usually well. I am there to make sure all children learn well from each other during the class.

Here are the details about our Occamy Minecraft Club - https://occamy.learntosolveit.com/

It is USD 5/- per class, limited to only 5 students per class. Age range kindergarten to 3rd grade.

Book Review: A Concise History of Modern India

A Concise History of Modern IndiaA Concise History of Modern India by Barbara D. Metcalf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book totally captivating. I have followed Indian history through books, and have been witnessed incidents taking shape, like Babri Masjid Demolition, Killing of Rajiv Gandhi, Curfew, Coalition Government, Gujarat Violence and burning of the train, the rise of Cyberabad, etc.

The details provided in this book still captured my attention. The authors do a wonderful job of providing a "concise history of modern India", and trying to present the facts as they are.

If we come across any review that either accuses the book of having some prejudice by labeling it with terms like "British authors", "leftist" or "does not capture greatness" or "congress" etc, we can safely assume that the review-writer was standing in front of the mirror rather than in front of text and words.

Reading history, I often realize that reality can be stranger than Fiction. This book share ample anecdotes along those fronts.

The first thing I realized was - British East India Company had a much difficult time establishing trade relations in the subcontinent than French or Portuguese who had arrived earlier because India under Mughal had some resistance going on. They established pure trade relations, incurring a loss, buying cows from India, and facing criticism from Britain. The company did not want to give up on the business opportunity with India and incurred losses for decades.

Then we notice how Britain captured the whole of India. Robert Clive and Mir Jafir, a name that has become eponymous with a traitor start the conquer from South to Nawabs of Bengal. The loot and wealth of India were too tempting for the British to give up or lose control to locals.

I came to know through this book that for administering India, British setup "Indian Civil Services", the highest administrative body in India, which trains qualified candidates in both Britain and India through rigorous exams. The motivation was for that administrative body to report directly to the British state. The "Indian Civil Services" served the system very well, continued after Independence, and reporting structure replaced to the democratically elected official instead of the British state.

The book is a whirlwind, each capture captures multiple events in a century or decades.

I came to know that Mohammed Ali Jinnah, had requested Pakistan to be consisting of multiple divergent states in India which had Muslim Majority (like Hyderabad, Kashmir, parts of Punjab, Bengal, etc). He very well knew that having a separate country with interspersed states was never going to be practical, he wanted to use that demand as negotiation tactic. However, Nehru and congress never gave into it. They receded two states of Pakistan on religious identity. Nehru declared during Independence that India was not built on religious identity and is not a religious state, thus keeping the plan for India with all the states in order.

It seems like India had decided that after independence they will have some money for nation-building purposes. Since India got partition, I came to know that, it was Gandhi who, in his just tendencies, requested for 40 million pounds to be given to Pakistan as it's share.

I had known about the factors leading to Independence a little, but I didn't realize that the British were spending roughly 1000 million pounds per year on India after the war (like supporting Indian soldiers, infrastructure), which had proven economically very costly to hold on.

The book also deals with more recent events, and particularly things that struck me was

a. Keezhaldi massacre and how no one was ever brought to justice.
b. No one was brought to justice for the Gujarath train massacre. The chief minister, Modi was let go by the then government in power, BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

It is often that case that being in political majority determined the outcome of the punishable act, and humanitarian qualities like justice didn't have a say against power.

As an aside, I could relate to the above statement even in the 2020 Delhi Riots. BJP government did not bring anyone to justice. The same argument holds worldwide too wherein, in the USA, cronyism is so prevalent in republican led administration, and bringing someone to justice for the wrongdoing seems also non-applicable if the person has power.