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Glenn Nichols, surrounded by his hospice team. The author is in yellow.

Genetic Linkage

Why I Hate the Term “3-Parent Baby’”

September 29, 2016

Tags: mitochondrial DNA, 3-parent baby

A healthy baby boy has been born following mitochondrial manipulation technology (MMT). It was bound to happen, and might offer an alternative for some women who carry a mitochondrial disease.

The feat, accomplished by John Zhang, MD, PhD, medical director and founder of New Hope Fertility in New York City, but done in Mexico, will be presented at an upcoming conference and is abstracted in a medical journal (Fertility + Sterility), but hit the headlines first in New Scientist on Tuesday. An odd choice for an announcement, but the excellent article shows some restraint in using the term “3-parent technique”. Still, it unleashed a fresh barrage of “3-parent” and “designer” baby maddening memes.

The last time “3-parent baby” hit the media, I wrote "Mitohype: 3-Parent Designer Babies Who Will Change Human Evolution". I began that post, “If I turned in a 20,337 word article and the editor decided to replace 37 of those words, would I call her a co-author? Certainly not”.

In a nutshell, 37 genes do not a parent make. I say that as a parent, not a geneticist. (more…)

Finding The Famous Painting of the Blue People of Kentucky

September 22, 2016

Tags: methemoglobinemia, blue people of Kentucky, Walt Spitzmiller

The Blue People ©Walt Spitzmiller
Most stories about the blue people of Kentucky include an eerie, compelling drawing of a family, with the stark faces of 5 of the 9 members a striking bluish-gray, due to an inherited disease. Most stories also borrow heavily from a terrific article by Cathy Frost from Science 82, a long-gone magazine that I quite liked. Frost’s piece, “The Blue People of Troublesome Creek,” is usually credited, but the painting not, or misattributed to
ABC News, various newspapers, or simply deemed “unknown.”

The artist Walt Spitzmiller in fact painted the portrait of the Fugate family (see Walt Spitzmiller Fine Art). A Science 82 editor asked him in 1982 to draw a family, who lived in rural Kentucky, in which the father and some of the children had blue skin. “That’s all I knew about it. I did research on the period they talked about and took old photos and put them together. I added the hunting dog in the lower right, the rooster, that type of thing to add authenticity,” Walt told me.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUGATES
The blue people of Troublesome Creek had methemoglobinemia, a metabolic condition affecting hemoglobin, the four-part protein that carries oxygen bound to an iron atom at each subunit’s core. (more…)

Genetic Choreography of the Developing Human Embryo

September 14, 2016

Tags: embryo

Years ago, when I was teaching at a state university, I had the privilege to show real human embryos and fetuses to my genetics classes. An obstetrician back in the 1950s had saved them after patients had miscarried, with permission I was told, and donated the collection to the biology department.

My students were astonished at the forms that floated in size order in their test tubes and flasks, culminating in an 8-month fetus in a mayonnaise jar. I handled them with great care and respect. (more…)

instruction
Project to engage students in helping families with rare genetic diseases
Book Club Reader's Guide
Many challenging questions to stimulate thought and discussion.
Instructor's Guide
38 discussion questions to get students thinking and talking about gene therapy, including the science, ethical issues, and the drug approval process.
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The Forever Fix is the uplifting true story of 8-year-old Corey Haas, who was cured of hereditary blindness just 4 days after gene therapy.
College Textbooks
A spectacularly-illustrated, clearly written human anatomy and physiology textbook, used in pre-health profession programs throughout the U.S.
A highly engaging, clearly written, beautifully illustrated introduction to the science of human genetics for the non-scientist. Now in its 11th edition, 12th to be published in September 2018.
Nonfiction
An ideal starting point for anyone who wants to know more about genes, DNA, genomes, and the genetic ties that bind us all.

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