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The cool new DIY science movement that's changing everything from animals to agriculture.

"We're all here because we want to be the first humans able to fly."

"And we also want to live forever, see through walls, and shoot lasers from our eyeballs," the Ukrainian scientist tells me with a totally straight face. "But that's all science-fiction nonsense for now. So in the meantime, we're just making yogurt with an anti-aging protein, and things like that."


That must be Stamos' secret. GIF from Dannon Oikos/YouTube.

We're standing in the attic of a bicycle repair shop in Somerville, Massachusetts, where a group of local scientists and curious hobbyists have built a do-it-yourself laboratory for homegrown biology experiments.

The space is strewn with secondhand equipment, all scavenged and salvaged from the dumpsters of nearby universities and major pharmaceutical companies. Someone even found a way to use a breast pump to filter out bacteria samples. Yeah.

But as wild as this all may sound, it's hardly the most remarkable thing to come out of the life science revolution that's sweeping across the world.

"I cannot believe my eyes!" — Me, when I saw this stuff. GIF from "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

Recent advancements in biotech have made it easier than ever to manipulate and edit DNA with shocking accuracy.

At the forefront of this biological renaissance is a little thing scientists call CRISPR-Cas9, often shortened to just plain ol' CRISPR. It's a system that we pretty much stole from certain bacteria that uses enzymes and something called guide RNA to target and cut sequences of DNA.

But that's all kinds of confusing for non-science-y types, so think of it like this: DNA is full of information that tells a story, like a book. Previously, if we wanted to change any part of this DNA-book, we had to chop up random sections with our metaphorical scissors, or splash white-out on the pages, trying to scribble in new notes wherever we could. Sure, it got the job done sometimes. But it was also pretty messy and inefficient.

The CRISPR system offers a new kind of "find-and-replace" feature. Now we can take our DNA-book and say, "OK, CRISPR, please find that sentence that specifically says, 'Harry met Hagrid.'" Then we can tell it to cut out that particular sentence and either get rid of it entirely or add our own new, much cooler sentence in its place. (Like "Harry met Hagrid and then they high-fived and it was so epic that they destroyed Voldemort and everyone was awesome.")

Got that?

TL;DR: Everything is awesome with CRISPR. GIF from "The LEGO Movie."

Now imagine that instead of just rewriting their own derivative Harry Potter fanfic, scientists can use this "find-and-replace" feature to turn specific genes "on" or "off," or even add new sequences of base pairs into the genome. This makes it easier than ever to go in and splice, add, or change one little piece of genetic information and see what happens.

"It's like a toolkit, essentially," explained Joanne Kamens, executive director of Addgene. "It's like having just the right screwdriver we never had, and it's allowing scientists to create hundreds of new tools and making everything exponentially faster."

A much-more useful CRISPR explainer video. GIF from Desktop Genetics/YouTube.

This kind of super-accurate gene editing — and genetic synthesis in general — have become more accessible in the past few years.

CRISPR might be the prom queen of the biggest labs, but there are other similar versions of this kind of precision gene-editing technology — like the methods that my Ukrainian friend was using in that attic. And these tools are collectively changing the world as we know it, in attics and labs all over the world.

Let's go down the DNA rabbit hole... GIF from McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT/YouTube.

Here are five of the most fascinating inventions and discoveries we've seen in biotech to date:

1. Gene editing could help us limit, or maybe even destroy, diseases like malaria and cancer.

Now that we can slice into DNA with alarming accuracy, we can target exactly where diseases exist in the body and how drugs get delivered to kill those diseases. It's like a microbiological version of "Mission: Impossible" when you're trying to defuse a bomb — gene editing tells you exactly which wire to cut, without the risk of blowing up the building (which in this case is a human body).

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco, for example, have found a way to turn human T cells into hyper-efficient disease-killing machines. Similarly, at Temple University, researchers are using CRISPR to literally cut HIV out of live subjects. Pretty neat, huh?

As for those pesky mosquito-born illnesses plaguing our warming world, CRISPR has already made it easier to identify diseases such as Zika, malaria, and West Nile in patients and hosts alike — and some scientists hope to use gene editing to remove the disease-carrying capability from the mosquito genome entirely, destroying them at the source.

EXACTLY. GIF from "Adventure Time."

2. This same application is revolutionizing how we study mental health, too.

Scientists at MIT have already used gene editing to create lab mice with autism and OCD so they can better understand what causes those conditions and how best to treat them.

If they can create those conditions, they might be able to un-create them, too, by essentially flipping a switch on the problematic genes. (The only trick is figuring out with certainty which specific genes out of the billions in our body are causing the problems, which is easier said than done.)

I know, Krang. It's pretty mind-blowing. GIF from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

3. It could also help us bring back the wooly mammoth or any other number of crazy chimera breeds.

Yup: Scientists at Harvard University successfully spliced wooly mammoth DNA into elephant cells. This is just on a cellular level so far, mind you; no one's prepared to go all "Jurassic Park" without looking into all the potential ramifications of such a project.

But, I mean, you knew this was coming, right? As cool and generally comforting as these other remarkable projects have been, we're still talking about genetic engineering, so of course there'd be some kind of super-powered kaiju-animal hybrids in the cards.

In China, scientists have already used CRISPR to breed dogs with twice the muscle mass by simply deleting one gene from their DNA. And in Boston, they've found a way to modify pig organs to make them compatible with human bodies in need of transplant donors.

And if you're wondering about the practical applications and ethical justifications of these kinds of projects, well ... those are totally valid things to be concerned about. But scientists are actively engaged in those discussions, and if it makes you feel any better, we're probably still a long way away from creating fully customizable mature synthetic humans. Probably.


My thoughts exactly, Doc Brown. GIF from "Back to the Future."

4. Gene editing could also help to revamp the entire agriculture industry — without the use of any off-putting genetic additives.

GMOs get a bad wrap. But gene editing is different from, say, adding a bit of flounder DNA into a tomato, which is why the FDA recently approved the first CRISPR-modified mushroom for human consumption.

These specially designed mushrooms have a greater resistance to browning — again, not because of any scary-sounding chemicals or foreign genes, but simply because biologists found a way to isolate and shut off the naturally occurring genes that caused the mushrooms to turn brown after you cut into them.

That's it. Really. Nothing scary about it.

Naturally occurring mushroom-hat parachutes are still in the early developmental stages. GIF from "Super Mario Bros. Super Show."

This method is also working to create disease-resistant plants, which is how a team at Seoul National University is trying to save the banana. Because why bother introducing pesticides or foreign genetic material when you can just poke at the DNA that the plant already has to improve its nutrient content and help it survive under less-than-ideal conditions? It's not quite "natural" in the traditional sense, but it's also not so different from the exchange and selective breeding of crops that's been going on for centuries.

Just, ya know — easier, and cooler-sounding.

So that's what Beaker's been meeping about all these years! GIF from "The Muppet Show."

5. But perhaps most importantly, gene editing is lowering the bar for scientific research and making it accessible to everyone.

Until recently, a lot of genetic and biotech data was protected behind intellectual property laws and institutional restrictions. But now? Anyone can buy an all-in-one CRISPR starter kit online or order a plasmid straight from a place like Addgene for a mere $65 and see what they can do with it ... just like those guys in the Somerville attic.

"It's like designing apps" for smartphones, said DeskGen's A.J. Ajetunmobi. DeskGen is a biotech startup that offers free open-source desktop gene-editing software, allowing anyone to design an experiment from anywhere in the world.

"People can focus on fixing problems instead of learning how to code," he said. "In life sciences, we're still stuck teaching people how to code. It's hard to teach that and still keep minds open."

GIF from "Dexter's Laboratory."

"Diversity of perspective makes everything better. People are so much more innovative when they're not coming at it from a specific overhead," Ajetunmobi added.

The possibilities for progress are endless as long as the opportunities are available to everyone — not just the pharmaceutical companies who can afford to pay millions for special equipment and data.

"The barriers to entry [in biotech] are significant," Ajetunmobi told me with an eyeroll and a laugh, before pointing out that it would be logistically difficult for an individual — say, a 30-year-old writer who is me — to obtain all the necessary plasmids and parts to breed a personal army of altruistic disease-resistant pig-human hybrid super-farmers with laser vision and flight capabilities.

"But now, there's nothing technically stopping anyone from experimenting and exploring."

Maybe you, too, can create your own web-shooters! ... Maybe. GIF from "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Personally, I decided to keep it simple and stick with the DIY bioluminescent yeast starter kit.

I'll leave the cool sci-fi-sounding progress to the pros (or to my new friends trying to find the fountain of youth in yogurt). But it's still nice to know that the opportunity is out there for anyone eager enough to give it a try.

Who knows? Maybe that 14-year-old kid next door will find a way to make pigs fly sooner than we think.

"Freddie Mercury" by kentarotakizawa is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Fans are thrilled to hear Freddie Mercury's iconic voice once again.

Freddie Mercury had a voice and a stage presence unlike any other in rock music history. His unique talents helped propel the band Queen to the top of music charts and created a loyal fan base around the world.

Sadly, the world lost that voice when Mercury died of AIDS at age 45. For decades, most of us have assumed we'd heard all the music we were going to hear from him.

However, according to Yahoo! Entertainment, remaining Queen members Roger Taylor and Brian May announced this summer that they had found a never-released song they'd recorded with Mercury in 1988 as they were working on the album "The Miracle."

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Hotel is giving away 10 all-expense-paid trips to help rebuild Patagonia hiking trail

Post your video entry by March 15 for a chance to do some good while exploring one of the world's most stunning ecosystems.

Las Torres Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park

In the far southern reaches of South America, Patagonia beckons adventurers with its striking landscape. Rugged mountain peaks, deep valley vistas, pristine lakes, virgin forests, coastal cliffs and more combine to make this semi-arid land a paradise for nature lovers and photographers alike.

If you've ever seen a photo like this…

hiking trail next to a lake in patagoniaHiking trail at Torres del Paine National Park in PatagoniaLas Torres Patagonia

…and thought, "I have to go see that turquoise water for myself," now's your chance. Las Torres Patagonia is offering an all-expense-paid trip (including airfare) for 10 lucky winners to travel to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and stay at the all-inclusive Las Torres Patagonia hotel for five days.

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We all know that Americans pay more for healthcare than every other country in the world. But how much more?

According an American expatriate who shared the story of his ER visit in a Taiwanese hospital, Americans are being taken to the cleaners when we go to the doctor. We live in a country that claims to be the greatest in the world, but where an emergency trip to the hospital can easily bankrupt someone.

Kevin Bozeat had that fact in mind when he fell ill while living in Taiwan and needed to go to the hospital. He didn't have insurance and he had no idea how much it was going to cost him. He shared the experience in a now-viral Facebook post he called "The Horrors of Socialized Medicine: A first hand experience."

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Lamb Chop and Mallory Lewis are creating nostalgia in Mellennials

"Lamb Chop's Play Along" taught a whole generation so many meaning for things. The little sock puppet taught kids things like manners, kindness and a really annoying song that doesn't have an ending. It'll probably be difficult to find a Millennial that doesn't know "The Song that Doesn't End" by Shari Lewis who voiced Lamb Chop.

The kids show aired from 1992 to 1997 on PBS, with Shari passing away just a year later. But turns out everyone's favorite squeaky voiced lamb wasn't done bringing people joy. Shari's daughter Mallory Lewis has taken up her mom's throne as Lamb Chops handler and the internet couldn't be more thrilled to see the duo.

Mallory has the same fiery red curly hair that her mom did and has brought Lamb Chop, Charley Horse and Hush Puppy back out to play. To the delight of Millennials, the sassy lamb is still just six years old and gets Mallory into some tricky situations when trying to explain things to the puppet.

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via Sitwithit / Instagram

Validation and Hope vs. Toxic Positivity

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The positivity we hold within ourselves, when we can manage it, makes it a little easier to get by.

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Family

How 5 diabolical parents called their kids' bluff in hilarious ways

The next generation is in great, if diabolical, hands.

Photo by Phuong Tran on Unsplash



Recently, blogger Jen Hatmaker had a funny conversation with a friend about parenting:

"My girlfriend told me the greatest story. Apparently her 11-year-old also wanted to be a grown up this week and, in fact, not only did he treat his siblings like despised underlings, but when asked what he wanted, he said: 'I want the authority to be in charge of them and tell them what to do, because they deserve it!'


Well. My girlfriend and her husband are NOT AT ALL MESSING AROUND with parenting. Calmly, evenly, they granted his request to be a grown-up for a week by pulling him out of camp (the underlings still got to go, because they are 'such children') and sending him to work ALL DAY EVERY DAY with his dad. He has to get up early and shower and make breakfast for everyone. He has to kiss the underlings before he goes to work and tell them to have a great day and that he loves them. He has to work on a typing project during his office hours. He only gets to eat what his dad eats, because eating like a grown-up is not nearly as fun as eating like a kid.


Want to be an adult? Fine."

Photo via iStock.

Hatmaker's post went viral, with thousands of parents chiming in with their own stories of tough love, both giving and receiving.

The responses were hilarious, poignant, and a sign that the next generation is being parented by extremely capable, if not a little bit diabolical, hands.

Here are five of my favorite stories from the comments about parenting-gone-absolutely-right:

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