The Price of Altruism - George Price, a (troubled) father of group selection thru his discovery of the eponymous Price Equation, has a rather interesting biography... [more inside]
Invasive amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling (CVS) tests are commonly used to determine the chromosomal, structural and genetic abnormalities in fetuses. But could they eventually become obsolete? A Chinese study has found that a complete copy of the fetal genome exists in the mother's blood, suggesting many prenatal diagnoses could potentially be performed noninvasively. [more inside]
An Icelandic company called deCODE genetics (previously) has found evidence, though not conclusive, that an unknown American woman traveled to Iceland, possibly against her will, as early the year 1000 but not later than 1700. She had offspring in Iceland with natives. 80 of her descendants are still extant in that country. This finding has been announced in a pre-print online publication of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The work involved explorations of mitochondrial DNA, which are frequently employed to examine humans' centuries-old lineages. One surprising result is that this lineage does not seem to line up with previously known Native American genetic markers, but the authors believe that the explanation above is "[more] likely" than this common ancestor being European or Asian. (Via Daily Mail.) [more inside]
"Our findings provide genetic evidence of an increased rate of large CNVs in individuals with ADHD and suggest that ADHD is not purely a social construct." (abstract) Researchers find a genetic basis for ADHD, and the researcher hopes the finding will reduce the stigma associated with the disorder. But maybe it's more complex than just biology. In any case, children who are diagnosed at an early age are 10 times more likely to be depressed as adolescents. (abstract)
Our minds boggle at how the wolf could become the chihuahua, the Saint Bernard, the poodle and the Komondor. Artificial selection was likewise responsible for transforming the humble wild mustard plant Brassica oleracea into cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and the breathtaking fractal Romanesco, all in the span of a few centuries. [more inside]
Noncoding "junk" DNA is a signature part of the genomes of eukaryotes. Scientists have now identified a case of such DNA causing a genetic disease (Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy) in certain genetic backgrounds by stabilizing the messenger RNA of a gene.
'Priceless collection' in Russia was never registered so is therefore worthless and does not officially exist, say developers
In 1926, Nikolai Vavilov founded the world's first modern seedbank, and amassed a collection which today contains over 90% unique varieties of plant, contained in no other collection in existence. For his opposition to Lysenkoism he died in prison, and several of his colleagues famously starved to death instead of eating their specimens during the Siege of Leningrad. Now the Pavlovsk seedbank facility has been seized by the Federal Agency for Public Estate Management, and pending a court ruling will be demolished - contents and all - to build a housing development. The collection cannot be moved in time because it is a working seedbank of living plants.
The first European who is not of African descent to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds. [more inside]
New Adventures in Recent Evolution - In the last few years, biologists peering into the human genome have found evidence of recent natural selection. cf. Social Darwinism: 21st century edition [previously] (via ip) [more inside]
Tibetans May Be Fastest Evolutionary Adapters Ever. "A group of scientists in China, Denmark and the U.S. recently documented the fastest genetic change observed in humans. According to their findings, Tibetan adaption to high altitude might have taken just 3,000 years. That's a flash, in terms of evolutionary time, but it's one that's in dispute."
There are some unique finds that tell us about the early lives of people. But of course there are other ways...
Followup to this post: A US District Court has ruled that Myriad Genetic's patents on breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which allow them to hold exclusive rights to a widely used genetic test for inherited breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility, are invalid. Genomics Law Report analyzes the ruling in two posts. The decision is likely to be challenged in a legal appeal — but if upheld, it could have huge implications for the biotechnology industry. [more inside]
"People who use sows to hunt for truffles often find it hard to prevent a sex-crazed animal from eating the truffle she has found and may lose fingers in the attempt." (via) The NYT on decoding the genome of the Périgord Black Truffle . Attempts to make truffles cheaper and more accessible in the past have been met with some resistance.
A new study suggests that humanity's sense of fair play and kindness towards strangers is determined by culture, not genetics. Speculation: the finding may be directly related to the rise of religion in human history, as well as more complex economies. (Via). [more inside]
We may soon be able to clone Neanderthals. But should we? An essay from Archaeology Magazine examines the ethical, scientific and legal ramifications. (Via Heather Pringle's Time Machine blog, where essay author Zach Zorich posted a reply and elicited a response.) [more inside]
Cracking the Cancer Code: We already know that all cancers are caused by DNA mutations acquired during a person's lifetime. But what mutations actually cause cancer? We may be one step closer to finding out. International research teams led by the Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have now mapped the entire genetic code of two of the most common human cancers: lung and skin (malignant melanoma). Their findings have the potential to revolutionize preventative and treatment therapies as well as pave the way for new early detection tests. More. [more inside]
Interesting developments in med-tech: gene testing machines for doctors, a plan to engineer stem cells to kill HIV, a new way to repair damaged nerves, the next generation of retinal implants, and the first bionic fingers up for sale. (Bonus for those uninterested in medicine: the newest take on a Minority Report-style interface, courtesy of MIT.)
The orchid hypothesis “profoundly recasts the way we think about human [genetic] frailty.”
grumblebee's post about cell size and scale the other day was quite fascinating. Pulling back to the home for that site, the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah delivers educational materials on genetics, bio-science and health topics ranging from stem cells to gene therapy, and from epigenetics to heredity. Explore the neurobiology of normal and addicted brains and the genetic contribution to this chronic disease.
The Home Office, the UK government department responsible for immigration control, has initiated a program to test the DNA from of potential asylum seekers in an attempt to confirm their true nationalities. The initial program is a six-month pilot limited to claimants arriving from the Horn of Africa. The program, currently using forensic samples provided on a voluntary basis, could potentially expand to other nationalities if successful. The Home Office spokeswoman said ancestral DNA testing would not be used alone but would be combined with language analysis, investigative interviewing techniques and other recognized forensic disciplines, but many are decrying the "deeply flawed" program, from refugee support groups to scientists in the genetic forensics fields (via). [more inside]
Here's a strange one for the books: Science has taken notice that a really, really LARGE proportion of schizophrenic patients smoke. In fact, Scientific American Mind reports that an average of 85% of schizophrenic patients smoke cigarettes compared to only 20% in the general population. Many schizophrenics also appear to have abnormal thermoregulation, an impaired ability to understand body language, an inability to perceive an optical illusion called "the hollow mask illusion," an impaired ability to produce a brain protein known as the muscarinic M1 receptor, and an abnormally large number of genetic mutations known as CNV's or "copy number variations."
"Algae is the ultimate biological system using sunlight to capture and convert carbon dioxide into fuel... I came up with a notion to trick algae into pumping more [fuel] out." Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics partners with ExxonMobil in a $600M project to harvest biofuels from genetically engineered algae. "We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry." [previously] [more inside]
The Village Dog Project is an ongoing research project to document genetic diversity in pariah dogs. These dogs haven't been subject to breed pressure, and may be able to help researchers learn more about the transition from wolf to dog. (via)
"In Massachusetts, a young woman makes genetically modified E. coli in a closet she converted into a home lab. A part-time DJ in Berkeley, Calif., works in his attic to cultivate viruses extracted from sewage. In Seattle, a grad-school dropout wants to breed algae in a personal biology lab. These hobbyists represent a growing strain of geekdom known as biohacking, in which do-it-yourselfers tinker with the building blocks of life in the comfort of their own homes." They might be discovering cures for diseases or developing new biofuels, but are their experiments too risky? Via. [more inside]
On behalf of medical organizations, universities, & individual patients, pathologists and genetics researchers, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Utah-based Myriad Genetics and the US Patent and Trademark Office. Myriad holds the US patents to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, associated with hereditary causes of breast and ovarian cancers. Their patents guarantee the company the right to prevent anyone else from testing or studying those genes, which the ACLU says is unconstitutional and inhibits researchers from finding treatments and cures. [more inside]
The universal grammar of birdsong is genetically encoded. "A new study, published online in the journal Nature, shows that the songs of isolated zebra finches evolve over multiple generations to resemble those of birds in natural colonies. These findings show that song learning in birds is not purely the product of nurture, but has a strong genetic basis, and suggest that bird song has a universal grammar, or an intrinsic structure which is present at birth."
Familial genetic profiling of law enforcement DNA databases has already been used to succesfully establish both guilt and innocence. Legal and moral questions on these expanded techniques abound and are comprehensively explored by a speaker at a recent FBI symposium on the topic. In the author's words, scenarios previously limited to movies like Minority Report are unfolding quietly, before most of us have thought about the consequences. (Via)
Will the US become more progressive in the future or will advances in neuroscience cause the abandonment of the "equality premise"? [more inside]
Designer Babies: For a mere $18,400 you could have your very own sex-screened child. Don't care about the sex? How about screened for hair color, eye color, or cancer tendencies? (via (via)) [more inside]
In 2000, the Spanish Pyrenean Ibex (a type of mountain goat) went extinct. In early 2009 it was brought back to life, the first time an extinct species has been "successfully" cloned. The newborn bucardo died of respiratory failure minutes after birth, setting a second extinction record.
Hugh Reinhoff has sequenced his daughters DNA at home attempting to diagnose her unique genetic mutation. [more inside]
My Genome, My Self: Steven Pinker considers what we can expect from personal genomics. Searching for Intelligence in Our Genes: Carl Zimmer looks at the hunt to learn about the role of genes in intelligence.
"Leaves that crawl".... Assimilated chloroplasts give a species of sea slug its deep green glow; and to keep it, Elysia Chlorotica becomes even a little more plant-like....
Now: The Rest of the Genome. "Only 1 percent of the genome is made up of classic genes. Scientists are exploring the other 99 percent and uncovering new secrets and new questions."
Dr. Joe Z. Tsien has previously created a strain of mice unable to form memories, one with much improved memory - "Doogie" mice - and can now erase single mouse memories. "Our work reveals a molecular mechanism of how that can be done quickly and without doing damage to brain cells." Remembering to forget....
How We Evolve: "A growing number of scientists argue that human culture itself has become the foremost agent of biological change, making us — for the past 10,000 years or so — the inadvertent architects of our own future selves." [more inside]
Genome Quilts "The quilts are visually pleasing, with their strong colors and seemingly traditional design, but they hide and reveal an entirely other construct of information." [via]
Scientists Repurpose Adult Cells - "Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research." [nature abstract, nature writeup, audio announcement]
One Pill Makes You Autistic -- And One Pill Changes You Back. It might also lead to recreational autism, where people who want to take a break from having messy emotions about other people decide to unplug and enter a state where human relationships are no more important than inanimate objects. [more inside]
The first ever, it is believed, has been produced at Cornell University. The feat was apparently much overlooked, and has many concerned over the lack of public debate of this field of research. Genetically modified human embryos.
A new round of genetic tests has confirmed it: The 'big lizards' of our childhood fantasies were more likely 'big birds.' In fact, they probably even had feathers, and looked more like this than this. Mind blowing, I know, but I guess this demonstrates that, despite what some may think, science really doesn't have a problem admitting that it got something wrong when new evidence comes to light.
Any admixture would have to be driven by male Neanderthals. Two years ago we discussed morphological evidence of nontrivial interbreeding. Since then Neanderthal DNA has been examined for genetic support for this model of human evolution, largely contradicting the belief in Neanderthal contribution to modern humanity. Indeed any contribution from the Neanderthal gene pool to the evolution of modern humans might be very rare and indeed it appears that the best candidate gene thus (MC1R) far likely was a result of convergent evolution. [more inside]
Want your genome on a hard drive but don't have the money? 23andMe can give you almost that: a scan of your SNPs, presented online and complete with analyses derived from up-to-date medical research (and a few educated guesses). Eight months ago, blogs were rife with speculation of who 23 could be and what the connection with Google could mean. [more inside]
The allure of blue eyes has long been celebrated. In the Odyssey, Homer gives the goddess Athena "bright blue eyes," and our fascination persists to this day with actors like Brad Pitt and Naomi Watts. Until recently, however, no one could explain the phenomena. [more inside]