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Genetic Linkage

The Festival of Genomics and Biodata 2023 Comes to Boston

One of the most anticipated returns to normalcy following the pandemic is the in-person conference. Like the mythical Phoenix bird arising from the ashes, live get-togethers are finally replacing zoom life, bringing back the sharing of ideas and spontaneity that catalyzes insights and inspiration – especially in science and technology.


The Festival of Genomics and Biodata comes to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center October 4-5. More than 150 speakers presenting in 7 "theaters" will cover a diversity of topics, plus round table discussions, "speed networking," and poster, career, and start-up "zones." Researchers, clinicians, and those working in drug discovery and development are welcome.


Front Line Genomics (FLG) is organizing the meeting. The best part? For 90 percent of participants, the conference is free! More than 2,000 attendees have already signed up. Register here.


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

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Why I’m Not Worried that ChatGPT Will Replace Me as a Biology Textbook Author

I just used ChatGPT for the first time. Initially, I was concerned about my future as the chatbot near-instantaneously answered my queries on increasingly obscure terms from my field, genetics. Stumping the AI tool, however, took only about 10 minutes.


ChatGPT was released November 30, 2022, from OpenAI/Microsoft. "Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer" is a little like Google on steroids. But after my brief encounter, I can't help but wonder whether it can handle the nuance, context, humor, and creativity of a human mind. Could it replace me as a textbook author?


My Career


I've been writing life science tomes for a long time. My favorite has always been Human Genetics: Concepts and Applications, the first edition published in 1994, at the dawn of the human genome sequencing era. The 14th edition published this week, from McGraw-Hill. A revision takes two years, one for updating and addressing reviewers' suggestions, another for "production," from copyediting through final pages. Then, a year off.


As genetics morphed into genomics, artificial intelligence stepped in, layering the combinatorial information of comparative genomics onto DNA sequences. Training on data sets and then searching for patterns could be used to deduce evolutionary trees depicting species relationships, in ancestry testing and forensics, and in identifying sequences of mutations that appear as a cancer spreads.


ChatGPT is too recent for me to have used it in revising the new edition, but I'm curious now. I could imagine it spitting out definitions, but a textbook is much more than "content." A human author adds perspective, experience, and perhaps knowledge beyond what ChatGPT can extract from the Internet.


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

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Maui Fires: How Mitochondrial DNA Will Identify Human Remains

The Maui firestorm was so vast and fast that most identification of human remains will come from bits of persisting DNA from mitochondria.


The "Powerhouse of the Cell"

Most people likely last encountered mitochondria in high school biology class. The footprint-shaped "powerhouse of the cell" releases energy from breaking the chemical bonds that hold together nutrient molecules. The energy released in digesting food is held, fleetingly, in molecules of ATP, which serves as an energy debit card of sorts.


Each mitochondrion harbors its own tiny genome, a mere 36 genes compared to the 20,000 or so in a human cell's nucleus. And mitochondrial genes aren't just copies of nuclear ones – they're unique. Most encode enzymes that extract energy from ATP.


Mitochondria likely came from bacteria that single-celled organisms in ancient seas engulfed about 1.5 billion years ago. The idea is famous in biology as the endosymbiont theory. The bacteria in their new cellular homes, over time, retained some genes while surrendering others to the nucleus. And, gradually, the ancient bacteria evolved into mitochondria. Two recent reports in ScienceAdvances describe a contemporary contender for a descendant of the original stowaway bacterial genome that birthed mitochondria.


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

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Watermelon Pangenome Reveals Origins of Sweetness

As autumn looms, we're enjoying the last bites of sweet, juicy watermelon.


Conventional agriculture has molded our fruits and veggies to suit our palates, gradually crafting domesticated Citrullus lanatus from three ancestral melon species. But the process may have also removed valuable traits.


Researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, New York, have analyzed genomes of watermelon and its ancestors, revealing traits that early breeders may have inadvertently removed in their quest to maximize the red, sweet, watery flesh of the fruit. Their report appears in Plant Biotechnology Journal.


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

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