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Genetic Linkage

Marketers are beginning to use data mined from consumer DNA tests. Should we be worried?

(Angie Wang)

A woman lingers at a display of coffeemakers. Soon after, images of the very same contraptions festoon her Facebook feed, courtesy of her phone's GPS and store cameras.

 

A man diagnosed with a blood clot gets TV ads for a drug to prevent further episodes.

 

A person peruses ads for indoor herb gardens for a gift and is later bombarded with botanical options on social media.

 

People turn 65, and suddenly Joe Namath interrupts their favorite TV shows, with unending descriptions of Medicare Supplement plans.

 

Coincidences? Hardly. In this age of TMI, it can feel as if our very brains are being intrusively picked, constantly.

Even our DNA can be trolled for embedded preferences and habits, if we (sometimes unknowingly) provide permission.

 

How foreboding is the 'privacy crisis'?
Remi Daviet, Gideon Nave, and Jerry Wind, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, dissect "Genetic Data: Potential Uses and Misuses in Marketing," in a report in a special issue of the Journal of Marketing.

 

To continue reading, go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

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What Do Non-identical Identical Twins Have to do with COVID-19? Mutation!

Identical twins Stella and Desiree Vignes were born in 1938 in a Louisiana town so small that it wasn't on any maps. Light-skinned Blacks, the girls left town together at the age of 16 to head to New Orleans to work and escape a bleak future. Stella was mistaken for White at a job interview and continued the deception to get the position, eventually marrying her boss and leaving her sister behind. Stella experienced adulthood as White, Desiree as Black.

 

The Vignes sisters were born in the imagination of Brit Bennett, an extraordinary young writer. Her bestseller "The Vanishing Half" traces the experiences of the twins in a world where what happens to them depends upon how others perceive them – as Black or White. Of course, they go on to live starkly different lives, Stella in wealthy Brentwood, California, and Desiree back in her hometown waitressing in a diner. The drama intensifies when their grown daughters meet, one a pale blonde, the other "a dark girl" black as ebony.

 

Identical twins and higher multiples are, indeed, fascinating. The 2018 film Three Identical Strangers tells the tale of triplet brothers who met by chance at age 19 in 1980. It echoes the fictional film The Parent Trap, from 1961 with Hayley Mills and reborn in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan, each in dual roles.

 

Twin Studies

 

To continue reading, go to my DNA Science blog, where this post first appeared.

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A dangerous stage in the evolution of the novel coronavirus is upon us with the discovery of “escape mutations.” Artificial intelligence may be our best response

Real life with COVID-19 is now scarier than anything a sci-fi writer could envision. So-called "escape mutations" that can turn the virus into an out-of-control shape-shifter that hides from the immune system are now a frightening reality. And they can't be totally stopped with masks or social distancing, lockdowns or travel restrictions. Even if we could keep all viruses out, the ones already here are mutating in a direction that keeps them infectious and deadly. The battle between us and this often-lethal virus has just jumped to a new level. 

 

While it may take awhile to see whether these escape mutations will evade the vaccines approved or in the pipeline, Tyler Starr from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and colleagues report in a new study in Science an effect on two already available treatments — monoclonal antibodies. They've identified an escape mutation with a single glitch that enables the virus to evade Regeneron's double-antibody REGN-COV2 "cocktail" (which Trump took) and a third antibody in Eli Lilly's LY-CoV016. The researchers found the escapee using a new lab mapping technique that displays viruses contorted with mutation, and then they found it in a patient who was still testing positive, 145 days after the first test.

 

What does this mean? The discovery of escape mutations derailing antibody treatments means that the companies' initial tests hadn't caught them all. And the escape mutations — the new mapping revealed three others — are already in circulation.

 

To continue writing, please go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

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Mutants Come to Saratoga: COVID New Variants Explained

When a new variant of the COVID-19 virus appeared in the UK as 2020 drew to a close, I didn't think it would show up a half hour's drive from my home soon after. The first cases were near Denver and in San Diego, and then traced to a jewelry store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. We've felt rather insulated and isolated here, hours from New York City.

 

The Legacy of Caffe Lena

This week began with an email from Sarah Craig, executive director of Caffe Lena, the oldest coffeehouse in the US. Don McLean debuted "American Pie" there, Arlo Guthrie first tried out "Alice's Restaurant," and Bob Dylan and many others have commanded the iconic tiny stage in the small, homey establishment that opened in 1960.

 

The café is now in "Safe Mode," with even the fabulous online events it has held throughout the pandemic too risky to record. The one-month shutdown follows the death January 12 from COVID of Matt McCabe, owner of Saratoga Guitar and frequent performer at the coffeehouse. The opening image captures his final show, in December.

 

To continue reading, please go to my DNA Science blog at Public Library of Science. 

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