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Genetic Linkage

Multi-cancer Early Detection Blood Tests (MCED) Debut

A 52-year-old woman is at her annual physical exam. The physician assistant mentions he'll need two extra vials of blood for new cancer screening tests, one just FDA-approved, the other available as part of a clinical trial.


"But I already get mammograms and colonoscopies based on family history, and my husband gets his PSA screen for prostate cancer every year. So far, so good. Why do I need these new tests?" the patient asks.


"They can catch cancers much earlier, from DNA and proteins in your blood plasma, the liquid part. Including cancers much rarer than breast, colon, and prostate."


"Sure," says the patient, rolling up a sleeve. She'd be one of the first to have "multi-cancer early detection" – MCED – blood tests that zero in on clues that cancer cells shed into the bloodstream. A treatment begun early is more likely to work. An MCED blood test could be a gamechanger for people who haven't had cancer.

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CRISPR Tackles Diverse Single-Gene Conditions

The end-of-year FDA approval of the first CRISPR-based therapy, for sickle cell disease, came a mere dozen years after Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier introduced the technology. They shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020.


CRISPR is one of the better abbreviations in genetics. It's certainly more memorable than RFLPs, GWAS, and even SNPs, so euphonious that few reports – technical or otherwise – actually use the term "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats." CRISPRs are short DNA sequences, peppered with repeats, that latch onto DNA-cutting enzymes, commandeering and directing them to snip certain parts of a chromosome.


The genomes of certain bacteria naturally harbor CRISPR sequences. The microbes deploy them to dismantle the genetic material of infecting viruses, a little like an immune response.


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

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The 500th Blog Post at DNA Science: In Celebration of Vaccines

A few weeks ago, I noticed a surprising metric when posting my weekly DNA Science blog – at year's end, I'd hit #500!


That got me thinking. Looking back, which blog post was the most important? The answer came to me quickly – but it's not what I would have expected when I began more than a decade ago.


The Birth of DNA Science


When St. Martin's Press was about to publish my book about gene therapy in 2012, my agent urged me to start blogging. I needed to widen my audience beyond college students forced to buy my textbooks and readers of the articles I'd been cranking out since the 1980s.


The book that kickstarted DNA Science was The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It. It's a history of gene therapy told through the voices of the patients, families, researchers, and clinicians behind the first FDA approvals, which didn't come until 2017.


I launched a website and blog, "Genetic Linkage," through the Author's Guild. Soon, an editor at Public Library of Science asked me to post Genetic Linkage at PLoS. We renamed it DNA Science.


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

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Perfume from Extinct Flowers, Thanks to Ancient DNA and Synthetic Biology

"Enchant your loved ones with nature's lost scents, revived through biotechnology and perfume artistry."


When that popped up on Facebook, I was intrigued. So I clicked.


"Meet Invisible Woods: a clean, refreshing scent revived from extinct flower DNA," beneath an image of "origin flower" Wendlandia angustifolia.


A quick search revealed that this plant had been presumed extinct, until one popped up in a 1998 survey of its natural habitat in Tamil Nadu, India. Invisible Woods is not really "revived," but "reimagined," using clues from ancient flowers and the tools of biotechnology.


Future Society offers six fragrances inspired by past plants, for $98 per 50 milliliters (a little under 2 ounces) or a $35 sampler ideal for a stocking stuffer. Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks provides the expertise in genetics.


I don't use scented products other than Pine-Sol, so this was all new to me. DermNet defines "fragrance" as a combination of organic compounds that produces a distinct smell, whereas a perfume is a liquid mixture that emits a pleasant odor, and oilier than a fragrance. I don't exactly get the distinction, but apparently perfume is the oilier of the two and perfume, cologne, and aftershave are all fragrances.


Before I dig into the science, I'll relate taking a quiz on the Future Society website that would help me choose a product. I clicked on the "friend" option, my bestie, Wendy. 


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

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