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Genetic Linkage

Our Father on Netflix depicts the dark side of ‘secret serial sperm donation’. My story is more positive.

"Our Father" is difficult to watch, especially if you've suddenly discovered as an adult that you have a never-known family of half-siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews thanks to a long-ago sperm donation. One review dubs the series "Netflix's most gruesome real-life documentary yet." 


It tells the tale of Indianapolis fertility physician Donald Cline, who used his sperm to inseminate at least 96 women (and counting) between 1979-1986. After years of being in the dark, the offspring have found each other thanks to diligent sleuthing by some of the half-siblings and DNA testing. 


"The majority of us live in a 25-mile radius, some within minutes of Cline. I walk around and I could be related to anyone. I've probably met half sibs and we don't even know it," said a son named Guy.


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

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I write about the history of genetics. Buffalo racially-motivated massacre refocuses attention on the dark side of the 100-year old eugenics movement

Whenever I work on a new edition of my human genetics textbook and reach the section on eugenics, which flourished in the United States in the 20th century well into the 1930s, I'm relieved that it's history. But in the summer of 2017, as I wrapped up the 12th edition, the eugenics coverage took on a frightening new reality with the attack in Charlottesville, where white supremacists bellowed "Jews will not replace us!" A president noted at the time, "there are very fine people on both sides."


It's now 2022. I've just finished revamping the section in my textbook on eugenics for the 14th edition. And once again, eugenics is in the headlines, with the attack on Black shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. 


As another president once said, "here we go again."


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

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Time Travel, Sea of Tranquility, and the History of Genetics

Tales of time travel have intrigued me since The Time Machine film scared the crap out of me at my cousin Ron's ninth birthday party. Now The Time Traveler's Wife, a novel from 2003 and film from 2009, has resurfaced in series form on HBO.


Emily St. John Mandel's new novel Sea of Tranquility also follows a time traveler, across five centuries. The tale begins in 1912 in Canada and ends, if you look at time as linear rather than looped, in a dark, domed moon colony. The author wrote Station Eleven, so I was thrilled that she has a new book. Although it's fiction, events during the middle time period unfold during a pandemic. It is an eerily familiar backdrop.


The Star Trek Futuristic Precedent


The #1 rule of time travel: you can't go back and change anything. A poignant demonstration of this edict is "The City on the Edge of Forever," considered by some to be the best installment of any Star Trek series ever. It was the penultimate episode of the first season, debuting on NBC on April 6, 1967 and written by Harlan Ellison.


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

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Can Chewing Gum Protect Against COVID?

When I was growing up in the 1960s, chewing gum was a big deal.


TV ads showcased the doublemint twins and their stick gum, and the small squares of chiclets. Kids preferred tiny bricks of pink Bazooka with the folded-up shiny papers bearing dumb comics. Girls collected rectangular

Juicy Fruit wrappers, folding them thrice in two dimensions and linking them into loooong chains that we'd save for our future first boyfriends.


We had tea-flavored teaberry gum, and a yummy licorice one with a name that is probably no longer politically correct.


Trident gum offered a sugar-free option, while Dentyne gave the illusion of health. New York City pharmacist Franklin V. Canning invented the gum in 1899, formulated to "sweeten the breath, to keep teeth white," according to the wrapper. Dentyne cleverly combines "dental" and "hygiene."


And an ancient song was entitled, "Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?"


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

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A New View of Flu Thanks to Preserved Lungs in a German Museum

I've long been fascinated with the 1918 influenza pandemic because my grandfather Sam survived it. He married his nurse, lived 103 years, and likely had lifelong B cells that held the memory of his encounter with the flu. I wrote "A 1918 Flu Memoir" about him in 2008 for The American Journal of Bioethics.


We know very little about the 1918 pandemic flu, other than what it did to millions. The virus wasn't even identified until 1933. Compare that to the deluge of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences posted daily, nearly 11 million as I write this.


What we do know about the 1918 flu comes from bits of lung tissue from museum specimens or preserved in permafrost.


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

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