Tag Archives | Human Genome

Selfish Science And The Human Genome Project

Via the Daily Beast, Michael Thomsen on the new model of scientific progress:

In a time of dramatically worsening social conditions in the richest country in the world, there is something perverse about chasing scientific advancement that only the tiniest percentage of people will have access to, driven by the optimism of impossible promises.

It’s possible to view scientific advancement not as a marker of human progress but as a separatist illusion used to justify the accumulation of wealth by the few, building new speculative societies with iPhones, gene therapy, and regenerative medicine, while everyone else festers in shanty towns and militarized city slums. Does it matter if there is a cure for cancer but no one will share it with you?

In the thrilling early years of the Human Genome Project, scientists flew all over the world to study the genes of as many different races and ethnic groups as possible.

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Junk DNA Not So Junky After All

Picture: Annso2505 (CC)

Surprise, surprise: we don’t know everything about the human genome just yet.

A five-year project called ENCODE, for “Encyclopedia of DNA Elements,” found that about 80 percent of the human genome is biologically active, influencing how nearby genes are expressed and in which types of cells. It’s not junk DNA, which was previously thought — instead, these non-coding regions of DNA could have major bearing on diseases and genetic mutations, researchers say.

The project will rewrite the textbooks, turning the architectural blueprint of the human genome into a control schematic and instruction manual that explains how genes turn on and off. These rules dictate anything from embryonic development to the process of aging.

Of course, developing a working knowledge of the genetic “instruction manual” could be used for good or evil: Cures for the genetic diseases that have plagued mankind forever, or phenome-targeted biological weapons and Gene-tweaked super soldiers?… Read the rest

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It Is Now Possible To Decode An Unborn Baby’s DNA

Writes Bonnie Rochman on TIME:

Researchers at the University of Washington have sequenced the entire genome of a fetus. The scientific advance could help detect certain diseases in the womb, but some experts worry that the trove of genetic information may prove more scary and overwhelming than useful.

Suspended in the blood of a pregnant woman — along with some added information from a dad-to-be’s saliva — lurks enough fetal DNA to map out an unborn baby’s entire genetic blueprint.

It may sound like something conjured by Jules Verne, but it happened at the University of Washington: a professor and his graduate student used DNA samples from the parents of a baby boy who was still in utero and reconstructed his entire genetic makeup from A to Z.

The account, published in Science Translational Medicine, takes prenatal testing to new heights, promising a motherlode of genetic information about a child who had not even been born — along with a corresponding trove of data that even experts don’t yet know how to interpret…

Read more: TIME

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All Non-African People Are Part Neanderthal

Neanderthal child

Reconstruction of a Neanderthal child.

Interesting article from Alasdair Wilkins on io9.com:

The evidence has been mounting for years that early humans and Neanderthals interbred, but now it’s pretty much a certainty. Part of the X chromosome found in people from outside Africa originally comes from our Neanderthal cousins.

It’s kind of amazing to think that, as recently as just a few years ago, the scientific consensus was that humans and Neanderthals were completely separate species and probably didn’t interbreed. Since then, a ton of new evidence has come to light to change that position, and now new research from Damian Labuda of the University of Montreal more or less completes this big reversal.

Neanderthals, one of the last extant hominid species other than our own, left Africa somewhere between 400,000 and 800,000 years ago and settled mostly in Europe until they went extinct 30,000 years ago. Early modern humans left Africa about 80,000 to 50,000 years ago, meaning they overlapped with Neanderthals in time and place for at least 20,000 years.

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Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Hermann Schaaffhausen (1888).

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Hermann Schaaffhausen (1888).

From the recent March/April issue of Archaeology. Zach Zorich writes:

If Neanderthals ever walk the earth again, the primordial ooze from which they will rise is an emulsion of oil, water, and DNA capture beads engineered in the laboratory of 454 Life Sciences in Branford, Connecticut. Over the past 4 years those beads have been gathering tiny fragments of DNA from samples of dissolved organic materials, including pieces of Neanderthal bone. Genetic sequences have given paleoanthropologists a new line of evidence for testing ideas about the biology of our closest extinct relative.

The first studies of Neanderthal DNA focused on the genetic sequences of mitochondria, the microscopic organelles that convert food to energy within cells. In 2005, however, 454 began a collaborative project with the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, to sequence the full genetic code of a Neanderthal woman who died in Croatia’s Vindija cave 30,000 years ago.

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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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According to DNA, You’re Half-Human, Half-Virus

Frank Ryan writes in New Scientist:
When, in 2001, the human genome was sequenced for the first time, we were confronted by several surprises. One was the sheer lack of genes: where we had anticipated perhaps 100,000 there were actually as few as 20,000. A bigger surprise came from analysis of the genetic sequences, which revealed that these genes made up a mere 1.5 per cent of the genome. This is dwarfed by DNA deriving from viruses, which amounts to roughly 9 per cent.On top of that, huge chunks of the genome are made up of mysterious virus-like entities called retrotransposons, pieces of selfish DNA that appear to serve no function other than to make copies of themselves. These account for no less than 34 per cent of our genome. All in all, the virus-like components of the human genome amount to almost half of our DNA. This would once have been dismissed as mere "junk DNA", but we now know that some of it plays a critical role in our biology. As to the origins and function of the rest, we simply do not know...
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