Playing Cut And Paste With DNA Of Living Bacteria

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Reporting in Science, researchers write of editing the genomic code of living bacteria, switching out a specific string of DNA building blocks with a similar sequence, over 300 times. Study author Peter Carr of MIT talks about the work, and what the technique could be used for.

IRA FLATOW, host: Next up, the social media scene just got a little more crowded because Google has now rolled out its newest attempt to challenge Facebook and Twitter on the social network game Google Plus. You can post pictures and links and videos on a - sort of a personal wall. You can follow posts from your friends. You can leave comments, or click a little plus-one button if you like something they posted. Sound familiar? Yeah, a little bit like Facebook?

There are some differences, of course. But how worried should Mark Zuckerberg be about Google's social network? And how fast can Google Plus amass users to rival Facebook's 750,00 million? Maybe Google Plus is a bigger competitor to Twitter. Or maybe it fits right in - somewhere in the middle. What do you think; have you tried it? Are you having trouble with it? Do you know how to use it? Is it difficult to use; what do you think? Are there some minuses to Google Plus? Give us a call; our number, 1-800-989-8255. You can also tweet us @scifri, S-C-I-F-R-I. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page, or you can go over to our website, and talk to other folks on the website at

Let me introduce my guest: Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land. He's based in Newport Beach, California. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Danny.

DANNY SULLIVAN: Thank you for having me. It's nice to be back.

FLATOW: Are you having fun with Google Plus?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Having tried it myself, I put you into one of my circles - if you want to explain what that is - and boy, you have filled up that circle with all kinds of messages. What do we call them in the Google Plus term?


FLATOW: We have a whole new vocabulary, right?

SULLIVAN: We are still developing what the vocabulary should be. There was another debate about it today, on whether or not some of the Twitter vocabulary should come over. I've tended to refer to people that I am following, or keeping track of, as people I'm following - which is what you would tend to say on Twitter. And I tend to say people who are following me are following me - just like I said that. It still feels natural.

Technically, it - Google Plus allows you to put anybody that you want to keep an eye on into a circle. And you can have multiple circles: circles for your friends, circles for your families - you've seen - or circles for just anybody. And you can just see what's happening within that circle. And you can also choose to share within a particular circle. So I haven't seen anybody kind of say oh, I've been circled, or anything like that, just yet. Maybe that will come. But I would tend to think that the follower idea will carry through on this - that particular vocabulary.

FLATOW: Hmm. All right, I'm going to ask our listeners to give us a call: 1-800-989-8255. Also, tweet us @scifri, at S-C-I-F-R-I. We applied for our SCIFRI Google Plus page; we haven't gotten that yet, so we're not taking any messages that way. But go to our website, at, and join the discussion there. We'll see if we can follow your questions there. And as always, we'll follow them on our Facebook page, at SCIFRI.

Stay with us. We'll be back after the break with Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land. Our number - the old-fashioned way - 1-800-989-8255. We'll be right back.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about Google Plus, the new social network, with Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land.

Danny, what would you say is the big advantage of Google Plus over Facebook, if it has one?

SULLIVAN: It depends on who you - probably - ask. There's probably two or three different things, depending on your viewpoint. A number of people I've seen express, the advantage is that you get to start over, that you may have started up on Facebook; you may have friended everybody who asked you to be friends with, including, you know, maybe your boss that maybe you don't want to share stuff with; and it's kind of hard to unfriend them now.

And so it's an ability to go back and kind of start afresh, as you would want to do it - which leads into another feature, which is this whole circles concept, that you can place people into any number of circles, and share information only with those people if you want to.

You can take somebody's face, and drag and literally drop them into circles. It's a nice little metaphor, a different kind of UI - or user interface - that Google typically hasn't done. So that resonates with a lot of people, too.

Another big feature that you can do is this idea of hangouts, which is having up to 10 people on a video chat, where they're all talking. And it's very clever. As one person speaks, the video image shifts over to that person, and then if another person talks, it changes over to them as well.

So those are some of the main things that kind of stand out. I suppose another feature is that you have a number of people within the system that seem to be there because they wanted an alternative Facebook; in particular, an alternative that perhaps they felt like they could trust more.

So it's very pro-Google, very pro-Google-Plus within that in terms of people who are seeking that kind of information or that experience.

FLATOW: You know, people have always been very concerned about privacy issues with Facebook. Why should they trust Google anymore? If you have all - everything else, all the other Google stuff running, aren't you putting everything into one basket here?


SULLIVAN: You are potentially doing that, indeed.

FLATOW: They read your email already. They search through that, you know?


FLATOW: Now they're going to know who your friends are and your circles and...

SULLIVAN: And there's been some people who express that exactly, that they find it somewhat ironic that to find a more trustworthy social network, you're having to turn to a service that other people feel like is not trustworthy, or already knows too much information about you.

But the trust aspect may be the key difference for some of those that are making that choice and feeling comfortable. There's one thing to, we know a lot about you. There's another thing to, we trust that you know a lot about us.

Facebook, over the years, has made a number of changes to their privacy settings that have caused people to open up more and more. Now, that's much different than, well, we know a lot about you but we didn't sort of make that more pbulic.

But still, you know, Google, they are going to, you know, come under close attention for this. And in fact, they are already under this sort of 20-year agreement with the FTC over their previous incarnation of a social network, which was Google Buzz. And when they had rolled that out, they ended up making some of the information public that some people didn't want, and didn't intend, or realize it was happening. And so now they're, you know, having to be watched much more closely, and that's one of the things that they agreed to.

FLATOW: Now, speaking of buzz, they have sort of a tweeting function there in Google Plus. But you're not limited to the 140 characters.

SULLIVAN: No, you can do 140,000 characters, if you want. You can go as long as you like. And that's kind of neat. That's one of the things some people have appreciated, is if you just want to go a bit longer and you need that extra detail that you want to provide, you can do that sort of thing over there.

I've certainly used that a couple times, where I thought, oh, I want to go a bit longer on this, and I just can't get all those nuances that I would say about or comment on this topic within Twitter, within the 140 characters.

FLATOW: Let's go to the phones, to Paulina(ph) in South Bend. Hi, Paulina.


FLATOW: Hi there, go ahead.

PAULINA: Hi, yeah. I actually, I really agree with most of the things that you've said. But my comment was about Google Plus versus Facebook. And I'm a user of both. I've been on Google Plus for about two weeks. And I've got people in my circles.

But the thing that I really like about Google Plus, that I don't like that Facebook has, is all of the extra applications: Farmville, you know, all of the extra games. I just feel like Facebook has gotten really bogged down. And even though they have, you know, all of these - or even though they have, I think you said, over 7 million users, it's - the nice thing about Google Plus is that it's not bogged down with all of those extra things in your newsfeed. And you sort of, you can just social-network with your friends without having all of the extra things to worry about.

FLATOW: And you can social-network with just five of them instead of everybody at once, if you want to. Yeah. All right, thanks for calling, Paulina. What about that, with Farmville and the other kinds of apps that they have there?

SULLIVAN: Well, vampires and zombies are so much fun.


SULLIVAN: That's definitely something that's not on the system right now, and I've seen a number of people express that they prefer it for that reason, that they don't have sort of all these invitations - or you've been bitten, or whatever - that's sort of coming up.

That potentially could change, however. You know, Google has game investments that they do. There's a lot of money to be made from social gaming. It wouldn't surprise me if down the line, you saw them try to bring social games into their own kind of system like that. There's revenue to be had there and clearly, some people like it.

Maybe they can find a way of doing that spin, where you have the gaming if you want it, but you don't feel like it's suddenly going to disturb all your other friends who are actually out on the system.

FLATOW: Yeah, yeah. One of the - here's a tweet from GatsbyO(ph), who says - and there's other people have said this - Google doesn't have an iPhone app. So it's limited to being used like other social media. It does have an Android app, does it not?

SULLIVAN: It does, and while it doesn't have an app with the iPhone, you can actually do some things with it on the iPhone because you can load up your browser, and you can do HTML 5, and it has some interactivity there. But still, you can't upload photos - the last time I had looked - through the iPhone, which was kind of annoying.

I believe that the case is that the iPhone app is probably going through the approval process. Google has said that they want to support that. It makes sense that they wouldn't have the iPhone app available at launch because, you know, to get the app approved, they would have had to tell Apple: By the way, we're launching this whole social network that we've kept under wraps.

So I think that that's probably where it is, although I can't recall what they're - if they've even said an official statement, beyond we just hope to have one soon.

FLATOW: Of course, we're going to have to wait. Here's a tweet from NPR Observation(ph), saying: I'm using it, but its usefulness is limited until other people start using it. And you just have to sort of invite people to get in at this point, don't you?

SULLIVAN: You do, and the invites for some people come and go. There was a time when they kind of opened up, and everybody could do the invite. Sometimes if you share with someone, when they get a message that you've shared something with them, that can cause an invite. But yes, it is a case where not everybody is just sort of getting in.

Now, one interesting twist on all this is even if you're not in it, if someone puts you into a circle with just your email address, and you want to share a photo, then they can see that stuff if you've shared it publicly with them in that way. So they kind of can participate.

But more and more people are coming in. That's definitely clear.

FLATOW: Right. Are we going to have any time to do any real work? You know, you do - if you're doing this, and you're doing Facebook, and you're tweeting, and you're doing all these sorts of things, I would think that businesspeople are going to pulling their hair out even more now.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, I was thinking I've got to find some time to do some work other than this. I've got to find some time to do some media rather than the social media, right?


FLATOW: Yeah, I mean, but is this just the next you know, is this just the new social media du jour? Facebook; now you have Google Plus; it'll be something else. And you'll think you need to have them all.

SULLIVAN: I think that what will probably happen is that people may gravitate towards one particular service that they're using. And so it may be the Google Plus - there are people who have been using Facebook and that they like it better, they might gravitate over to Google Plus; say this is working sufficiently, I want to spend most of my time here.

It could be that you'll have people who are on Twitter who say, you know, this is fitting me a little better, I'm - versus over there. And it could be that those other services continue on - maybe with a few less people, or maybe some people will cross over.

I would say that as I've watched my own stream and some of the people participating, it is phenomenal the amount of time people are spending there - just from what I'm seeing. Now, that's anecdotal. So I can't - you know, there could be plenty of people who aren't spending any time there.

And in fact, I can go through, and I can see people who have created profiles and have done absolutely nothing. Google Plus's top-followed person, Mark Zuckerberg, for example, is on the service and is followed by more people than anybody else and has not done anything publicly, the last time I looked.

FLATOW: Of course, this could be just another MySpace.


SULLIVAN: It could be.

FLATOW: You never know. You know, that was last year's du jour sort of thing.

SULLIVAN: Justin Timberlake is buying all that stuff up now. So maybe he will enjoy this.


SULLIVAN: It could be. I mean, it took MySpace some time to diminish, and that kind of comes back to, could Google even succeed here, you know; that if you go back, MySpace at one point seemed like they had locked it up. And Facebook comes along and you think, oh, well, now Facebook has got it; there's no way anybody could challenge them.

And yet possibly, this could develop into that. I tend to be more of the feeling that this will probably develop and if it's very lucky, may turn into a very strong contender against Facebook. But I think Facebook is going to continue to be the top player in the near future, that they have a lot of people. And right now, Google Plus has 10 million people; Facebook has 750.

FLATOW: Now, we're going to send - we're sending a million and a half of ours to your direction, Danny.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. OK. I will start sending off the invites, one by one.

FLATOW: You will, yeah - your email box is going to have those little pluses there. Thanks for taking time to be with us today, Danny. Good luck to you.

SULLIVAN: Your welcome. Thank you so much.

FLATOW: Danny Sullivan - you're welcome. Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land. He's based in Newport Beach, California.

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