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Genetic Linkage

A Proposed DNA Data Protection Act? The Cat’s Out of the Bag

A team of biologists, policy analysts, and legal experts from the University of Queensland call for a new Genetic Data Protection Act in an article just published in Genetics in Medicine.

A new law is needed now, the researchers argue, because of the increasing difficulty of keeping the threads of DNA use separate. “What happens to our genetic data in one realm, such as forensics, is highly likely to affect how society trusts the use of genetic data in medicine. The speed of these developments has surprised many and demands a policy response to protect trust in medical genetics,” they write.

A data protection act is a great idea, but isn’t it a little late? The collision between genetic privacy and the consumer testing data dump that forensics is tapping into is already here. And it may detonate when the millions of DNA kits sitting under Christmas trees right now are translated into information. Read More 

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Viewpoint: Putting CRISPR babies in context—learning from the past instead of panicking in the present

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The birth announcement for the first human babies conceived using gene editing, to prevent an infection, came via YouTube on November 25.

In the words of researcher He Jiankui, of Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen:

Two Chinese girls, who we’ll call Lulu and Nana to protect their privacy, were born healthy a few weeks ago. Their mother Grace started her pregnancy by regular IVF with one difference: right after sending her husband’s sperm into her eggs, an embryologist also sent in CRISPR/Cas9 protein and instructions to perform a gene surgery intended to protect the girls from future HIV infection. The surgery reproduces a natural genetic variation shared by more than 100 million people of primarily European origin that confers strong resistance to initial HIV-1 infection and disease progression.

Dr. He went on to briefly explain the safety measures taken: genome sequencing before the early embyros implanted in the uterus, during the pregnancy, and after birth. “These data indicate the girls’ genomes were changed as intended by the gene surgery, but no off-target editing or large deletions occurred,” he concluded, saying his team would publish the findings soon.

To continue reading go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this article first appeared. Read More 

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Genome of Galapagos Gentle Giant Lonesome George Leaves Clues to Longevity

Lonesome George

I have a special fondness for tortoises.

Many years ago I bought a baby Sulcata tortoise at a reptile show. Unbeknownst to me, as I brought the Oreo-sized Speedy home in a McDonald’s burger container, she could live 100+ years.

Speedy grew. Fast. For amusement, she took to moving the furniture around at night. The weekly bowel movement took me several hours to clean up and the culprit hated the bathtub. She loved being outdoors in the summer, a reptilian lawn mower, but come winter, she’d grow depressed stuck inside, stalling herself in a corner of my office like a misplaced file box.

I despaired. Then googling led to articles disparaging idiot northeasterners who take in the likes of iguanas and giant tortoises, then have to deal with the inevitable growth.

I had to rehome my beloved Speedy.

To continue reading go to my blog DNA Science at Public Library of Science, where this article first appeared. Read More 

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Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Parkinson’s Link to the Appendix

Lurking in the layers of the human appendix lie deposits of alpha-synuclein, a protein prone to gumminess, like sticky rice. Known mostly for its clumping in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, alpha-synuclein aggregates found in the appendixes of healthy people made headlines a few weeks ago.

Isn’t the appendix fairly useless, even dangerous when inflamed? Is it also a gateway to a brain disease?

Actually, a link between the Parkinson’s protein and the appendix has been known for a few years. Now, new experiments reported in Science Translational Medicine confirm the connection and suggest a protective role for appendectomy. But rather than advising people to shed their appendixes, the researchers see their findings as opening up a new target for drug discovery for Parkinson’s.

To continue reading go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this article first appeared. Read More 

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A Common Ancestry Metric Is Based On a Century-Old Discovery by a 19-Year-Old: CentiMorgans Explained

I’ve been immersed in genetic genealogy, following up on a recent contact from a relative I didn’t know existed. While trying to imagine scenarios that might explain how we came to be connected, I contacted Ancestry.com for assistance in seeing actual data. When I found the obvious drop-down menus next to my matches on the website, I was astounded to recognize the unit used to assess the closeness of relationships – a centiMorgan.

I’m sure that’s Greek to most people. But to a former Drosophila (fruit fly) geneticist like me, “centiMorgan” (cM) brought an instant meaning: distance along a chromosome.

Invention of the centiMorgan is one of my favorite tales from the history of genetics. It provided the very first genetic map, and inspired the variations on the theme that were to come, including full genome sequencing.

The intuition that has sent millions of people googling centiMorgans, with more to come after all those DNA kits are opened and spat into for Christmas, goes back to a sleep-deprived 19-year-old with a fantastically brilliant idea, 105 years ago.

To continue reading go to DNA Science, my blog for Public Library of Science, where this article first appeared. Read More 
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