The Powers of a Synthetic Cell

    A new cell has been made. This cell is not a normal cell- it is controlled by man-made genetic instructions. Created at a cost of 40 million dollars, the experimental one cell organism, which can reproduce, opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale. Biologist Christopher Voigt at the University of California, San Francisco, thinks that the technique used to make the cell would be applied to all the most important industrial bacteria. Many companies are taking advantage of synthetic biology, which combines chemistry, computer science, molecular biology, genetics and cell biology to breed industrial life forms that can secrete fuels, vaccines or other commercial products. Also, this strategy can be used to make algae that convert carbon dioxide into petrol or diesel through photosynthesis. At the moment, the plants photosynthesise to form sugar, which is later on transformed into fuel by engineered bugs of one sort or another. Using algae to replace the plants would cut out the middleman.

    However, there are the downsides too. People who misuse the technology and use it to create or bring back past diseases are threats to the world. In 2002, a team of researchers made short sequences of synthetic DNA strands and pasted them together to form a functional poliovirus. When this extreme genetic engineering feat was announced to the world, the team was deemed as irresponsible and their findings could potentially show terrorists how to make a bio-weapon. In another case, efforts to reconstruct the 1918 flu virus began. The virus had killed between 20 and 50 million people, a number higher than the death toll in World War I. In 1997, Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger of the US Armed Forces recovered and sequenced fragments of the viral RNA from preserved tissues of the 1918 victims buried in Alaskan permafrost. Eight years later, the lethal virus had been resurrected. This was exactly like what happened in Jurassic Park, where dinosaurs were brought back to life.

    Synthesising cells to form organisms is inhumane to some. They argue that the experiment will not always work out the right way and sometimes, the product will be different from what is planned. For example, if scientists attempt to generate humans, but the result is somebody with four arms, will they kill it? Killing it would be morally wrong, they say. If they do not execute it, what will be of the created organism? A group based in Canada have called for a moratorium on synthetic biology, and will only continue when a decision is made.

    The synthetic cell can be used either positively or negatively. It is powerful- if used positively, will allow modern technology to advance, but will cause serious damage if misused.


Jumping off the car, I was almost hopping with nervousness. The day to receive my PSLE results was here. I kept reassuring myself that I already had a DSA offer to Hwa Chong, my dream school, but my heart was pounding wildly. I had already made some unforgivable mistakes and was not sure about my English Comprehension. Wild thoughts rushed through my mind. What will I get? What if I perform below my parent's expectations? Would they be disappointed? My father guessed that I would get 266, and my mother guessed 267. I was not sure if I could meet their guesses. When I sat down with my classmates in the hall, everybody's faces were calm and were still chatting happily and I forced the heavy feeling down.

"The nation's highest score was 282 and that of my school was 274 only." Yet another friend whispered to me. This rumour had spread through the class as fast as a bushfire spreads in a forest. If the highest was 274, what would I get? There were Gifted Education students in my school, and I would definitely score lower than most of them. What would I get? After what seemed like an eternity, the principal finally went on stage and confirmed the rumour. Then, he started to release the results. Top was two GEP students, followed by 272's, then 271's. Ah-Ha! The first in my class scored 270, and I was sixth in my class in the prelims. I stood a chance to get above 265! 269! No luck. 268! Still, my name was not on the screen. 267! I was starting to fret. Would I get below 265? 266! The names appeared on the screen. I searched the screen with a slight glimmer of hope. A familiar name caught my eye. It was mine! I whooped with joy. I had gotten 266!

My parents had guessed correctly! With a bright smile on their faces, they came over to me to take a photograph! My class had done relatively well, with an average of 259. Most of my friends were ecstatic that they were able to go to the top schools. I vowed to myself to work hard and do well in secondary school. I put down the heavy feeling in my heart and smiled.

Does Appearance Matter?

Does one's appearance make a difference? When does it matter?

Some students were asked for their opinions in a Chinese newspaper, and they had differing opinions. Most said that appearance does not matter much, especially for students; as how a person looks may not be what they are like. Some of them said that some of their classmates even put on make-up before going to school. One of the students said that those who do so usually get help more often from others, but most have bad impressions on such people. Also, she comments those who buy and use such beauty products, but do not have good results or moral characters are just wasting their time and money. Another also added that most people dress nicely so that they can get more friends, but she thinks that students who have good attitudes and morals generally have more friends than those who purposely dress up and buy beauty products.

On the other hand, some others argue that appearance is very important as most people judge a person by his first appearance. One student also says that those that go for plastic surgery have a significant increase in confidence after they come back as they feel more beautiful and have greater confidence in oneself.

I think that appearance can be important at times. For a student, when going for formal events such as interviews for DSA (Direct School Admission) and during his oral examinations, he has to be presentable to the interviewer/ examiner and it is true that most people judge a stranger by his first appearances. However, a student goes to school to learn new things and does not need to waste time doing such things. Not only is time and money wasted on such beauty products, the time used on such things can be used alternatively can be used to upgrade oneself, academically and non-academically.

In my opinion, beauty products should not be used by students. Like what one of the students said, how a person dresses does not reflect entirely on the person's personality and his attitude. I think that parents should step in if their children buy such beauty products to use. If their children buy them in an attempt to make more friends at school, they should explain to them that changing their attitude or improving their studies would work better and they need not use beauty products.

In conclusion, I think that appearance does matter, but not so much that one needs to specially make an effort to look nice all the time.

Integrity Makes the World Go Round

In the recent Saturday newspapers, a few members of the public were asked to come up with six words that meant something to them. As for me, my six words are, "Integrity Makes the World Go Round". To me, integrity is extremely important. In order to do anything with others, integrity is very important, and very often, we have to work in groups-in school, at work, and even at home. For example, when you are doing a group project in school, you ask your teammate to complete the powerpoint in 4 days, and he promises to do it, but actually does not even start it, at the end of 4 days. In the end, your project fails because your friend did not do his part.

Also, integrity helps you find friends. Imagine this situation. There are two people and you can choose to make friends with either one of them. The first has lower IQ then the second, but he tells the truth all the time, while the second only tells the truth sometimes. Who will you choose to be friends with? I am not too sure about you, but I would choose the second. The first is not as smart, but at least, he can be trusted.

Integrity is also important at home. For instance, when something is lost at home, integrity needs to exist before the object can be found back. Anyway, lying will only make you cook up another story to cover up for your previous lies. As the Chinese saying goes, "天网恢恢疏而不漏" (all bad things that one does will be uncover in the end).

Integrity is the basic moral character one should have in order to be successful, make friends and be happy. In order for anything to work, integrity must be present in you. Integrity makes the world go round!

The Race

I was bent over the stopwatch, mulling over the seconds as Jack zipped round the track. When he crossed the finish line, I pressed the button. 55 seconds! That was five seconds better than my personal best of 60 seconds! I was amazed. What my friend, Kumar, had said was true.

Jack was good. Jack was the representative for his class for the 400 metre dash, as I was for my class. I had been the champion for five years straight and now, Jack posed a "threat" to me. The only way I could get admiration from my classmates was from sports, as my studies were not good. If I did not win this year, I would lose the admiration from them! I still have one more month to train up for the competition. I doubled my training times for training my stamina, speed, and methods, and trained whenever I could. However, even after two weeks of hard work, I did not improve. I started to lose hope and felt both worried and panicky. I wanted to win, but yet I could not! Unless I thought of a way to make Jack lose the race! But that would be cheating!

For many days, I weighed the pros and cons of cheating. If I cheated, then it would be at the expense of my credibility, but if I lost, I would lose the admiration of my friends. In the end, I finally decided to bring Jack out of the race so that I would win. I thought of many devious plans to achieve my goal, and finally, I decided on the most plausible one- I would cut Jack's shoe laces such that it would break when he ran, causing his shoes to drop off. I tried it a few times on my old track shoes.

On the day off the race, I went to school with butterflies in my stomach. I cast a few nervous glances at Jack at the stadium and hoped the trick would pull off. Finally, it was time for us to get ready for the race. I slipped my penknife into my sports bag and went off with the other finalists to the locker room. When Jack and the others went into the cubicle to get changed, I stealthily got out my penknife and crept over to Jack's shoes and cut off about three quarters of the shoelace underneath the tongue. I got into my cubicle just as another finalist got out of his.

As I steadied my feet on the start-off block, wild thoughts rushed through my mind like a river. Was it really worth it to cheat just to win the race? Was getting my classmates' admiration really that important? Just as the countdown began, I remembered what my father had told me in the car that morning. "Bobby, it doesn't matter if you don't beat Jack and be first. Just so long as you try your best, I will be proud of you." I quickly made up my mind and dashed over to the referee and ordered him to stop the race. He was stunned, but did it anyway. The other participants stared at me in bewilderment. I made my way to Jack and told him that his shoe laces were spoilt as I had cut it. His eyes opened in shock and surprise.

Of course, in the end, I had to face the music and was scolded and punished by my teachers, but at least, I was glad that I had come to my senses in the last minute and prevented further damage. As for the race itself, it was postponed and Jack broke my streak and won the first place.

Violence in Public

    On the 19th of November, police arrested a 17-year-old for slashing another's right arm. They knew each other and one slash the other when they got into a dispute. Another two teens were arrested for possessing choppers at the Costa Sands resort. This has already been the third violent case in this month, besides the Downtown East and Bukit Panjang ones. Mr. Alvin Yeo, chairman of the Government Parliament Committee for Home Affairs and Law, suggested that some kind of registration for hunting and camping knives, could be started. Hardware stores said that they do not even question customers who buy knives, or even parangs, also known as machetes, no matter how young they are. When questioned, a sales assistant from Zener D.I.Y. store in Orchard Road said that customers buy them for their own personal use, so it is not nice to ask them.

    I feel that this is not right. In my opinion, anyone under 18 should be banned from buying any sort of knife, like what Britain has been doing. Personal use? What do teenagers even need such knives for? If their parents need them in their households, the parents themselves should be coming down to the store to buy the knives themselves. Laws have been so strict about murder in Singapore. By banning teenagers from buying any kind of knife in hardware stores, the number of assaults will decrease, I am sure. I propose that any patron at stores to buy knives of any sort must show their identification card.

Now, even people that possess any kind of weapon in public is arrested, and face jail for up to three years, with at least six strokes of the cane. Mr David Ho, a security consultant to several night clubs for over ten years, has founds weapons on young patrons, from common kitchen knives to knuckle dusters, which are banned in Singapore. He says that he hands such patrons to the police in such cases.

I think that the public can do their part too. If they see any youngsters holding weapons, they should immediately contact the police. As a responsible and vigilant citizen, we must always be on the lookout for anybody that breaks the law. School teachers can also remind their students not to break the laws. Brochures can be handed out to tell them the severe consequences of breaking the law. From my point of view, parents should create stricter rules for their children. For example, they should keep watch on their children's activities outdoors. As for the youths, most of them are forced to join the gangs by other members. I think that they should stay away from such people and seek assistance from their teachers and parents if they threaten them. If all of us do our part, I am sure that the number of such hacking incidents will decrease.

China resembles U.S.A.?

China is making a phenomenal leap to the top of the global economic hierarchy. It now has even outpaced Japan to become the second largest economy in the world. China sceptics think that a giant bubble is forming in China, but that bubble will soon burst to become equivalent to Japan's lost decade in the 1990's. Looking at the daunting challenges China faces, namely endemic corruption, their rapidly aging workforce and ever-increasing energy needs, they think that China's bubble will burst soon, plunging it into a crisis similar to that faced by Japan in the 1990's.

However, Stephen Mihm and Jeffrey Wasserstrom disagree with the critics in a commentary in a recent issue of the Times magazine. They think that contemporary China is much like 1850's America. For instance, both are predominantly rural countries that were undergoing a massive shift towards an urban, industrial economy. In the 1850's, U.S. rapidly churned out cheap yet high quality goods, such as textiles, clocks guns and other goods and earned the reputation of being the "workshop-of-the-world". China has also earned their and admiration from other countries for producing seemingly endless quantities of cheap goods.

Other countries have been complaining about China manipulating the Yuan, for having dubious business practices and wanton disregard for copyrights. These countries are actually echoing things British commentator said about the rise of America's rise1 some authors even complained about earning no money from the sales of pirated copies of their books being sold in the e country. As the U.S. rised, numerous speculative property bubbles grew and burst, but each time, the economy recovered and continued its steep climb upwards. So too, might China's economy.

Some of the sceptics think that the contradiction between China's political structure (which is nominally communist) and its economical structure (which is largely capitalist) might cause its downfall. However, America did not lack its contradictions in the 1850's. It was proud to say that it was devoted to freedom and equality, yet slavery played an important role in the economy, women lacked basic rights and Native Americans were grossly mistreated. Just as the U.S. had struggled throughout the 19th century to resolve its contradictions, so will China in coming years.

China sceptics think that China is sure to fall when their property bubbles burst. What makes them think that China's economy would not recover and continue growing? Stephen and Jeffrey think that Americans need to stop seeing China as an exotic case and expect that its economy grows, just as theirs had, in the 1850's.

Micro-financing- A Bane or A Boon?

In the 1970, Mr Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Prize for creating micro-financing. Microfinance provides financial services to those who have low income, as these people do not have any belongings or assets that can be used as collaterals when loaning from banks. The people will borrow a small sum of money to set up a business, buy cattle or seeds, and will return the money after a while.
In China, where micro financing services have just started, many people are benefitting. Before it began, those villages living in rural and poor villages had no money to buy or grow food to feed their families. With the help of microfinance, some were able to start businesses to make some money to buy food. After making back the money, they will return the money. In the end, the borrowers benefit, as they have enough money to feed their family, and can even make some extra money through the business they set up. For example, Madam Xiao, who lives in Wending, China, had problems feeding her children five years ago. However, with the help of micro-financing, she has set up a weaving business by borrowing S$194-582 annually. Now, she has enough money to feed her children and save money for their education.
However, things are not going well in India. Some of the borrowers borrow so much that they cannot pay back the money, and some the lenders are charging 50%-60% interest, while normal lenders only charge 24%-36% interest! Since accessing the loans are easy, many poor Indians have been lured into debt traps. In the Chennaipally village in the state of Andhra Pradesh, there have been twenty-five suicides due to micro-credit woes, and fifty other suicides in other villages. One such tragedy was the example of Ms Bandaru Padma. She took loans from four micro-financing firms totalling 79,000 rupees (S$2,000), to pay for her expenses. The 23 year old was unable to pay the 2000-rupee-per-week installment and had recovery agents hounding after her for the money. In the end, she took her two children to a well and jumped down. All three died.
The large number of suicides has prompted the authorities to do something. Last month, Andhra Pradesh passed a law that banned microfinance firms from charging high interest rates, and also restricted borrowers from taking multiple loans. In China, to prevent this from happening, charities only lend money to married women, as they are the ones who take charge of the household finances, and do not squander away the money or waste it on alcohol, and thus are more likely to return their debts.


A Singaporean couple who conceived their baby via in-vitro fertilisation are reeling from shock to discover that the child's DNA does not match the father's. In-vitro fertilisation is a process whereby the sperm and egg are extracted from the husband and wife respectively.

The couple is shocked and disappointed, and now want answers from the Thomson Fertility Centre and have also sought legal advice. On the 2nd of November, the hospital said that it was unable to discuss or comment on any case. "All our patients' information is treated with strict confidence. It is our policy to respect our patients' privacy and confidentiality," said Ms Patricia Lee, director of corporate development at the Thomas Fertility Centre Limited. The centre also says that it is very sorry and distressed over the sperm mix-up, and pledged to offer all possible support to the affected couple. MOH also says that certain practices in the centre can be improved, and it will be issuing additional directives to correct them, even though this is the first encounter with such a problem in 22 years at the centre, which is rated as one of the best private medical centres here. The hospital has many stringent checks, but human error might still take place.

What will happen to the baby? The couple has already decided to keep it, but they will be individually counselled to identify any potential problems between the couple. I feel that their relatives and friends will ask them questions about why their baby looks different, and their marriage has to be strong enough to withstand all these questions.

As for others that wish to go through IVF treatment at Thomas Fertility Centre, some say that they will not stop their treatment despite of the mix-up. "The service there is very good and professional. They explained the entire process to us during counselling. I don't feel like they wanted to make money from us, but that they really wanted the treatment to be successful for us," Mrs Lim, a customer says.

The man whose semen was used is technically considered as the biological dad of the baby. However, his legal rights are unclear according to today's law. Senior Counsel Deborah Barker of KhatterWong law firm said yesterday that the law ad it stands does not give the man whose sperm was mistakenly used any right to the child: he is in the same position as the father of an illegitimate child. Women's Charter made it a parent's duty to be responsible for the child. In this case, the man whose sperm was mistakenly used is the biological dad of the baby, so can the child or mother file a maintenance claim if they know who the sperm donor is? However, must Thomson Fertility Centre disclose the identity of the donor when the court orders it to?"The law may need to be revised to provide that the maintenance claim cannot be brought against anonymous donors or against biological fathers in situations where an IVF mix-up occurred." says Professor Lee.

A Special Visit

Just yesterday, I came back from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was a four days three nights trip organised by my Primary school, Henry Park. Once home, I reflected on my trip and found my visit to the Anh Linh Orphanage School the most memorable.

Once there, I saw about fifty children standing near the gates to welcome us. All of them looked cheerful and only a handful looked sad. The principal of the school told us that the school provided education from 1st to 5th grade. There was a large age difference among the levels- the age of the students in the school was in the range from eight to twenty! After the introduction, we were paired with one student from the orphanage. I was paired with a tall boy who looked very shy. Since most children in Vietnam did not understand English, I had to communicate with him through hand signs. Using simple gestures, I led him to one corner to do some activities. Taking out a colouring set and a picture of the Merlion and the Singapore flag, I asked him to colour the Singapore flag red. To my amazement, he picked up the red colour pencil and started to colour. He actually understood simple English! He must be quite intelligent! This made the activity easier. I told him how to colour the pictures and both of us sat down to colour.

The next activity that convinced me that my partner was intelligent was when I taught him how to play "Snakes and Ladders". I showed him how to play a few times before starting to play once with him. He immediately picked up the game and knew how to leap up the ladders and how to slide down the snakes. In a flash, he had reached the top!

After playing a few more rounds, it was almost time for him to go back to class. A few minutes before he left, I gave him an English picture book and a bookmark that I made. Politely, he thanked me and started flipping through the book. His eyes were glued to the page and only closed the book when the lesson bell rang. He thanked me again and ran up to class.

My group decided to tour around the school to have a look at the children's living conditions. When we entered their bedroom, all of us had a shock. Their beds were thin straw mattresses on hard metal frames. This made me feel very lucky to have a comfortable bed and a complete and caring family. We were then told by the principal that the students worked hard to make key chains after school. However, all they got for that was 1,000 Vietnamese dong(S$0.66) a month! Before we left, all of us went to the key chain shop to purchase the beautiful key chains sewn together using beads and plastic string.

The children at the orphanage are friendly, intelligent and hardworking. Sadly, they do not have the opportunities to do well in life. Take my partner as an example. Given the same opportunities as me- to go to a proper school, have parents to coach them and chances to go for immersion programmes, I am sure that he will excel in life!

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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.