Tag Archives | Genetics

Is Schizophrenia Caused By An ‘Insanity Virus’?

imagesIt’s a novel and chilling theory: we are all born with a brain-ravaging virus that invaded the human DNA millions of years ago. Our bodies work to contain it, but childhood infections such as the flu can allow HERV-W to become temporarily unleashed — the cause of schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. Discovery reports:

Schizophrenia has long been blamed on bad genes or even bad parents. Wrong, says a growing group of psychiatrists. The real culprit, they claim, is a virus that lives entwined in every person’s DNA.

Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25, but the person who becomes schizophrenic is sometimes recalled to have been different as a child or a toddler—more forgetful or shy or clumsy. Even more puzzling is the so-called birth-month effect: People born in winter or early spring are more likely than others to become schizophrenic later in life. It is a small increase, just 5 to 8 percent, but it is remarkably consistent, showing up in 250 studies.

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Connection Between Genetics and Alcohol Tolerance Found

While science still hasn’t decided whether or not alcoholism is genetic, they have found a gene that may answer why some people have a higher tolerance. From BBC News:

Experts say they have found a “tipsy” gene that explains why some people feel alcohol’s effects quicker than others.

The US researchers believe 10% to 20% of people have a version of the gene that may offer some protection against alcoholism.

That is because people who react strongly to alcohol are less likely to become addicted, studies show.

The University of North Carolina said the study aims to help fight addiction, not pave the way for a cheap night out.

Ultimately, people could be given CYP2E1-like drugs to make them more sensitive to alcohol – not to get them drunk more quickly, but to put them off drinking to inebriation, the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research journal reported.

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What If Homosexuality Becomes a Choice … For Parents?

Evidence that homosexuality is biological — and not a lifestyle choice like some on the religious Right believe — is building; gay men are more likely than straight men to have counterclockwise hair wholrs, have longer index than ring fingers, and be left handed or ambidextrous. David France wrote in a 2007 New York magazine article:

Hair

Because many of these newly identified “gay” traits and characteristics are known to be influenced in utero, researchers think they may be narrowing in on when gayness is set — and identifying its possible triggers. They believe that homosexuality may be the result of some interaction between a pregnant mother and her fetus. Several hypothetical mechanisms have been identified, most pointing to an alteration in the flow of male hormones in the formation of boys and female hormones in the gestation of girls. What causes this? Nobody has any direct evidence one way or another, but a list of suspects includes germs, genes, maternal stress, and even allergy — maybe the mother mounts some immunological response to the fetal hormones.

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Can PTSD Be Genetically Inherited?

Two related stories from Science Daily, the first from May of this year:

A study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health suggests that traumatic experiences “biologically embed” themselves in select genes, altering their functions and leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Our findings suggest a new biological model of PTSD in which alteration of genes, induced by a traumatic event, changes a person’s stress response and leads to the disorder,” said Sandro Galea, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, and principal investigator.

“Identification of the biologic underpinnings of PTSD will be crucial for developing appropriate psychological and/or pharmacological interventions, particularly in the wake of an increasing number of military veterans returning home following recent wars worldwide.”

The findings are published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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DNA Tests Show Hitler ‘Had Jewish and African Roots’

HitlerSaluteI have heard this before but looks like genetic testing is finally shedding some light on that idea. Heidi Blake writes on the Telegraph:

Saliva samples taken from 39 relatives of the Nazi leader show he may have had biological links to the “subhuman” races that he tried to exterminate during the Holocaust. Jean-Paul Mulders, a Belgian journalist, and Marc Vermeeren, a historian, tracked down the Fuhrer’s relatives, including an Austrian farmer who was his cousin, earlier this year.

A chromosome called Haplogroup E1b1b1 which showed up in their samples is rare in Western Europe and is most commonly found in the Berbers of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as among Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

“One can from this postulate that Hitler was related to people whom he despised,” Mr Mulders wrote in the Belgian magazine, Knack. Haplogroup E1b1b1, which accounts for approximately 18 to 20 per cent of Ashkenazi and 8.6 per cent to 30 per cent of Sephardic Y-chromosomes, appears to be one of the major founding lineages of the Jewish population.

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Sir, Your Liver Is Ready: Welcome to the Brave New World of Bioprinting Organs

BioPrintingDave Bullock writes in WIRED’s Raw File:

Say goodbye to donor lists and organ shortages. A biotech firm has created a printer that prints veins using a patients’ own cells. The device could potentially create whole organs in the future.

“Right now we’re really good at printing blood vessels,” says Ben Shepherd, senior research scientist at regenerative-medicine company Organovo. “We printed 10 this week. We’re still learning how to best condition them to be good, strong blood vessels.”

Most organs in the body are filled with veins, so the ability to print vascular tissue is a critical building block for complete organs. The printed veins are about to start testing in animal trials, and eventually go through human clinical trials. If all goes well, in a few years you may be able to replace a vein that has deteriorated (due to frequent injections of chemo treatment, for example) with custom-printed tissue grown from your own cells.

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One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Fluorescent Fish

There’s an old myth that if you breed a goldfish in the dark it will eventually glow iPhoto: Nonfluorescent convict cichlidn the dark.  But Taiwan has figured out a way to make a fish glow by changing its genetics.

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture exhibited the newest success in transgenic modification last week with the showing of fluorescent convict cichlids.  Convict cichlids, commonly known as zebra cichlids, have been successfully bred through five generations.  After sevens years of research and experimentation, there is still another year left of tests to insure that the fish are able to survive in a natural environment without causing harmful side effects.

Business is already in the works for these fish to be transferred to private companies with the intent of commercial marketing.  It is predicted that this new breed will be on the ornamental fish markets as early as next year. See video clip below:

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Scientists To Map Ozzy Osbourne’s Genetic Code To Find Out Why He is Still Alive

Ozzy Osbourne

Silly scientists, Ozzy’s still alive because he’s a werewolf. We’ve known this since the ’80s. Elizabeth Scott writes on Sky News:

Scientists are to map Ozzy Osbourne’s genetic code in a bid to find out how he is still alive after decades of drug and alcohol abuse.

The former Black Sabbath frontman is only one of a few people in the world to have his full genome analysed. It is hoped the results from the £27,000 test, which takes three months, will provide information on how drugs are absorbed in the body.

Ozzy, 61, has lived a life that would presumably kill any ordinary person. Even the singer himself cannot understand how he has survived this long, recently describing himself as a “medical miracle” after going on a “bender” for “40 years.”

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Do-It-Yourself Genetic Testing Kits Hit Drugstore Shelves

genesLast week, Walgreens drugstores across the country began selling over-the-counter genetics kits. Purchase one and you can test yourself for genetic risk of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer. Is this empowering, or just ripe for confusion and misuse? From NBC Chicago:

Soon, your pharmacy shopping list could include a bottle of soda, a candy bar, and a personal genetic testing kit.

Starting Friday, Walgreens shoppers can buy an over-the-counter genetics test from Pathway Genomics at 7,500 stores across the country. Priced at $20 to $30, the kit claims to offer information on users’ possibility of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, or diabetes.

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Woman With Breast Cancer Gene Files First Genetic Discrimination Lawsuit In U.S.

Photo: CIAT via Flickr (CC)

Photo: CIAT via Flickr (CC)

Can you be fired for having bad genes? For the first time, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act is being tested. Ewen Callaway at New Scientist writes:

In what may be the first US case of genetic discrimination since Congress banned the practice in 2008, a Connecticut woman claims she lost her job because she has a gene that predisposes her to breast cancer.

She and her lawyers filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

They allege that her employer, a utility company called MXenergy, violated a new federal law that protects people against genetic discrimination by employers and insurance companies, reports the Associated Press (AP).

Pamela Fink, a 39-year-old woman from Fairfield, Connecticut, alleges that she lost her job at MXenergy after she told the company that she had a mutation in a gene called BRCA2 that is linked to a greatly increased risk of breast cancer.

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