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Lila Shapiro
Lila Shapiro is a staff reporter at The Huffington Post. She is the 2013 and 2014 recipient of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association's Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBT Journalist of the Year. She previously worked at Talking Points Memo, editing TPMCafe. She lives in New York City and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lilapearl.

Entries by Lila Shapiro

How Controversial Gene Editing Could Lead To Groundbreaking Cures

(0) Comments | Posted November 25, 2015 | 1:22 PM

Thanks to the controversial new technology known as CRISPR, scientists are beginning to make headway in understanding and potentially curing some of the world's most intractable diseases.

Sickle-cell anemia, HIV, schizophrenia and autism -- essentially, anything involving bad DNA is now fair game. The latest example, from...

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This Technology Can Fight Cancer And Create Adorable Mini Pigs. So Why Are Scientists So Worried?

(3) Comments | Posted November 20, 2015 | 9:38 AM

As any number of magazine articles and news stories from recent months have noted, we are in the midst of a major genetic revolution. Thanks to a gene-editing technique called Crispr-Cas9, it is now not only possible, but easy, cheap and fast, to change, delete or replace genes in any plant or animal, including people.

Scientists around the world have already used Crispr on a wide range of projects, from developing a kind of wheat that is invulnerable to mildew to stopping cancer cells from multiplying. This week, Scientific American shone a spotlight on China’s “bold push” into the world of genetically customized animals -- and the mounting ethical quandaries that follow.

Using Crispr, scientists in China have created beagles with double the amount of muscle mass -- the world’s first gene-edited dogs -- as well as a new kind of goat, with bigger muscles and longer hair, among other Crispr-altered mammals. The work seems likely to rapidly expand. Minhua Hu, a geneticist at the Guangzhou General Pharmaceutical Research Institute and one of the beagle researchers, told Scientific American that genetically modifying animals is a priority area for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Another geneticist noted that the Chinese government has allocated “a lot of financial support” for such efforts.

Humans have manipulated the genetic makeup of plants and animals for thousands of years. The beagle is already a product of human genetic manipulation. So are golden retrievers, cats, cows, the salad that you ate for lunch, and every other domesticated animal and plant. But Crispr is far more precise and efficient than any previous technique. As Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University School of Medicine, put it, “We used to have a butter knife, now we’ve got a scalpel.”

The ease and precision of Crispr is partly what fuels the ethical questions that accompany the technology. “Now it’s something that someone with a BS and a couple thousand dollars’ worth of equipment can do. What was impractical is now almost everyday. That’s a big deal,” Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford University, told Wired.

Unlike earlier attempts at gene therapy, changes made with Crispr trickle down to future generations, potentially altering an entire species’ fate. This can have a cascading effect. For example, some researchers are trying to develop a mosquito that is both resistant to malaria and produces fewer eggs, a change that could cause the insects to become extinct. But if there are no more mosquitoes, what will happen to the bats that feed on them?

When Caplan first read a paper on Crispr two years ago, he was blown away by the possibilities. “As soon as I finished reading it, I thought, ‘Holy crap we’re going to have full employment for bioethicists.’”

Of the many ethical questions raised by the technology, one in particular stands out: When will we start using Crispr to make better babies?

China has made headlines in this arena as well. Last April, a group at Sun Yat-sen University published a paper announcing that they had used Crispr to edit human embryos to delete a gene linked to a blood disorder. The embryos were obtained from a fertility clinic, and couldn’t be carried to term. The experiment did not succeed, and, in part, showed how far away we are from using Crispr to create a so-called designer baby.

But Caplan predicts that once the science is firmly established, it will happen. “Everyone’s out talking about fixing diseases or making lab animals to fix diseases, but if you look at how interested people are in getting their kid into the right nursery school so they can get them into Harvard Business School -- they’re going to be interested in how they can engineer their kid to be more successful,” he said. “Not next year, but boy that’s going to come quickly.”

Tailor-made pets will come first. Although China’s Crispr work on mammals has so far had mostly practical aims -- for example, boosting goatherd incomes by increasing how much meat and wool each animal produces -- one Chinese institute is planning to sell gene-edited tiny pigs as pets.

More examples are likely to follow, both in China and around the world. Want a unicorn? How about a chicken that is “de-evolved” to look more like a dinosaur? Scientists say it could happen. It’s easy to envision the dystopian possibilities. What’s to stop someone from creating the world’s most dangerous attack dog?

“I’m going to say, nothing,” Caplan said. As Caplan outlined in a paper recently, published in Embo Reports, there are almost no regulations of any kind in place to shape the way that scientists use Crispr on animals.

Next month, however, that could begin to change. On Dec. 1, the National Academy of Sciences will host a three-day international conference to discuss the scientific, ethical and political issues raised by human gene-editing with Crispr. And on Dec. 7 and 8, the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research will host a conference on the ethics raised by using Crispr on animals. (Caplan is leading sessions on ethical and regulatory issues at the conference.)

But Caplan isn’t betting that the international community will regulate the industry anytime soon. “It’ll take some disaster to do it,” he said. “Otherwise the tendency is to say ‘Oh well, we’ll see where it goes.’”

Lila Shapiro covers the science fiction of science, the imaginative ways scientists are trying to solve the world’s hardest problems. Tips? Email 

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Space Lawyers Are A Thing, And We Talked To One About The Future Of Cosmic Mining

(0) Comments | Posted November 19, 2015 | 11:10 AM

Humanity is now one step closer to the kind of disastrous extraterrestrial mining operation depicted by James Cameron in Avatar. Incidentally, Cameron is one of the Americans who stands to benefit by a new bill that sailed through Congress this week.

The U.S....

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Esse minúsculo país pode virar o jogo na luta para salvar os oceanos

(0) Comments | Posted November 13, 2015 | 6:25 PM

O minúsculo arquipélago de Palau, no Pacífico Ocidental, há muito tempo é um dos líderes em conservação oceânica.

Na última década, o país criou o primeiro santuário de tubarões do mundo, aprovou algumas das leis mais rigorosas proibindo arrastões em águas profundas e desenvolveu uma estrutura de conservação que...

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The Quest To Design A Healthier Tomato

(0) Comments | Posted November 4, 2015 | 1:33 PM

Last week, researchers in the United Kingdom announced that they’d developed a genetically modified tomato with the potential to help protect consumers from cancer. The tomato, described in a new paper published in Nature -- and not yet available to the public -- is...

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Mushrooms May Really Be Magic After All

(0) Comments | Posted November 2, 2015 | 4:05 PM

A typical mushroom shoots tens of thousands of spores into the atmosphere every second, and until a decade ago nobody knew how.

In the 1990s, Miami University botany professor Nicholas Money decided to look into "one of the great unsolved mysteries in fungal biology," identified...

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The Author Who Thinks 'South Park' Can Help Save Science

(1) Comments | Posted October 28, 2015 | 5:19 PM

My brother’s brief tenure as a math doctoral student at the University of Chicago ended shortly after he attended a gathering where one of his colleagues bragged that he had never read a novel. To my brother’s dismay, everyone else in the room nodded in agreement and approval....

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This Game Can Make People Less Prejudiced. Here's How.

(0) Comments | Posted October 27, 2015 | 1:57 PM

Can you name a female physicist?

It turns out just trying to do so may make you less likely to believe women aren’t good at science or math.

OK, it’s a little more complicated than that. But new research this week suggests that...

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Scientist Featured On 'Humans Of New York' Can Put Your Immune System Into A Mouse's Body

(0) Comments | Posted October 26, 2015 | 10:24 AM

Humans of New York, the popular blog that uses images of New Yorkers to create a photographic census of the city, featured a scientist last week who caught our eye: She can put your entire immune system into the body of a mouse!

As she put it to Humans...

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This Tiny Nation Could Be A 'Tipping Point' For Saving The Oceans

(0) Comments | Posted October 23, 2015 | 1:59 PM

The tiny nation of Palau, an archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean, has long been a international leader in ocean conservation. Over the past decade or so, it established the world's first shark sanctuary, passed some of the most stringent laws banning bottom trawling, and developed...

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Meet The Physicist Building A Time Machine To See His Dead Father

(1) Comments | Posted October 21, 2015 | 12:26 PM

This is an important day for Ronald L. Mallett, a retired professor of theoretical physics at the University of Connecticut who is trying to invent a machine that will allow him to travel back in time to reunite with his dead father. Of course, this is...

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인간은 너무 완벽한 로봇을 원하지 않는다

(0) Comments | Posted October 19, 2015 | 4:34 PM

오작동하는 로봇은 무시무시할 수 있다. ‘어벤저스’나 ‘스페이스 오디세이’의 디스커버리 원의 승무원들에게 물어보면 잘 대답해 줄 것이다. 그러나 우리는 완벽한 로봇보다는 단점이 있는 로봇을 더 선호하는 경향이 있다.

영국 링컨의 링컨 대학교 컴퓨터공학과가 새로 발표한 연구에 의하면 인간은 실수를 하고, ‘지루함’을 표현하거나 지나치게 흥분하는 로봇과 소통하는 것을...

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Humans Don’t Want A Robot That Is Too Perfect

(1) Comments | Posted October 16, 2015 | 3:51 PM

Flawed robots have been the stuff of human nightmares at least since HAL 9000 killed off the astronauts in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. For as long as humans have considered the idea of one of their creations taking on a life of its own, they have...

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A Mysterious Epidemic Plaguing Central America May Be Linked To Climate Change

(1) Comments | Posted October 16, 2015 | 11:17 AM

A mysterious disease has been sweeping through the sugar cane fields of Central America, with more than 20,000 laborers dying from it over the past decade. As of 2012, it had killed the husbands of more than 100 women of the 250 families living on one island...

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Leader Of 'Renoir Sucks' Movement Challenges Critic To A Duel To The Death

(0) Comments | Posted October 8, 2015 | 3:36 PM

It’s not yet 7:30 a.m. in California, but Max Geller, leader of the Renoir Sucks At Painting movement, is already all riled up.

Specifically, he tells me with some amount of glee, he’s pretty sure that dueling is technically still legal in Massachusetts....

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Candle Soot May Be The Key To A Better Battery For Electric Cars

(0) Comments | Posted October 7, 2015 | 6:05 PM

It sounds like something that Harry Potter might have bought himself as a reward for defeating the most powerful dark wizard who ever lived -- a car powered by candles.  

The new discovery, by Chandra Shekhar Sharma and Manohar Kakunuri...

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A Million Reasons To Leave New York

(0) Comments | Posted October 1, 2015 | 3:47 PM

Which is worse? That the median price of an apartment in Manhattan has soared to a record high of $999,000? Or how little that just-shy-of-a-million will get you? Dottie Herman, chief executive of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, put it rather delicately in a New York Times...

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Before Caitlin, This Athlete Was Fired For Being Transgender

(2) Comments | Posted September 25, 2015 | 4:03 PM

Before Janae Marie Kroc came out as a transgender woman, she was known to friends and fans as Matt Kroczaleski, one of the strongest and toughest men in the world.

In 2006, at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, an annual professional men’s bodybuilding competition,...

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LGBT Activists Plan For Next Battle

(1) Comments | Posted September 23, 2015 | 1:41 PM

After the recent victories in the fight for same-sex marriage, some activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights found themselves wondering if they’d won their way out of a job. Could they sustain the momentum that helped legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, and if so, what exactly...

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Boss Who Asked Transgender Woman 'What Are You?' Agrees To Significant Settlement

(2) Comments | Posted September 9, 2015 | 7:14 PM

Last November, Jessi Dye showed up at Summerford Nursing Home for what would turn out to be both her first and last day of work.

The morning started well. Dye attended a series of training sessions, completed paperwork, received vaccinations. She was excited about the new job; it seemed like there was a real future with the company, and they'd offered to pay for her training to become a certified nurse's assistant. 

But then over lunch, she was asked to go speak with Robert Summerford, the manager of the company, about her paperwork.

"What are you?" he asked her, as soon as she'd entered his office.

"It was exactly like being punched in the stomach," Dye recalled this week during a phone interview with The Huffington Post.

The feeling wasn't entirely unfamiliar to Dye, a transgender woman living in Vinemont, Alabama. She came out seven years ago, when she was 21, and since then, employment has sometimes been a challenge. Sooner or later, employers realize, as Summerford did, that the identity on her driver’s license doesn't match the gender of the person they've hired. But no employer, or prospective employer, had ever been as direct or as final as Summerford.

After Dye answered Summerford’s question, explaining that she was born male and was in the process of transitioning to female, he asked her, “What am I supposed to do with you?” and then instructed her to get her things and leave the premises. 

In March, Dye, with the support of lawyers from the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On Thursday, the Southern Poverty Law Center announced that Summerford had reached a settlement with Dye. Rather than face a possible fight over Dye’s accusation in federal court, the company agreed to implement a policy that prohibits discrimination against job applicants and employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to conduct sensitivity training concerning LGBT people. (The amount of money paid to Dye in the settlement has not been disclosed.) 

Sam Wolfe, a lawyer with SPLC, sees Summerford’s quick capitulation and favorable settlement offer as a positive sign that the climate toward LGBT people in the workplace is shifting around the country, even in states like Alabama, which have no statewide laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination.

"I think the takeaway here is that we have a small company that is represented by competent lawyers and they saw the writing on the wall," Wolfe told The Huffington Post. “It’s an admission that employers do need to pay attention to their obligations under federal law to not discriminate because of someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The laws protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination are not as clear-cut as advocates wish. Despite more than two decades of effort, supporters have been unable to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit bias in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, outside of Congress, there have been signs of progress. Last summer, President Barack Obama signed an executive order protecting federal employees (and the employees of federal contractors) from anti-LGBT discrimination. Over the last several years, the EEOC has also held that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the commission has successfully sued both private and public-sector employers using that argument.

David Lopez, general counsel with the EEOC, said that pursuing such cases has been a “top priority” for the commission. Yet he acknowledged that while recent court rulings on the issue have mostly sided with the EEOC, not every court that has considered these cases has sided with the LGBT person charging discrimination. “The courts have not yet reached a consensus,” he said.

Both Summerford and his lawyer declined to speak with The Huffington Post about how they reached their decision to offer a settlement.

Dye, for her part, hopes the announcement of the settlement will make it clear to other transgender people that they do have legal protection in the workplace and will serve as a warning to employers that they can’t fire someone just because of their gender identity. “I don’t want anybody else to have to go through what I went through that day,” she said....

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