Archive for the ‘genome’ Category

Study finds humans still evolving, and quickly

December 11, 2007

The pace of human evolution has been increasing at a stunning rate since our ancestors began spreading through Europe, Asia and Africa 40,000 years ago, quickening to 100 times historic levels after agriculture became widespread, according to a study published today.

By examining more than 3 million variants of DNA in 269 people, researchers identified about 1,800 genes that have been widely adopted in relatively recent times because they offer some evolutionary benefit.

Until recently, anthropologists believed that evolutionary pressures on humans eased after the transition to a more stable agrarian lifestyle. But in the last few years, they realized the opposite was true — diseases swept through societies in which large groups lived in close quarters for a long period.

Altogether, the recent genetic changes account for 7% of the human genome, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source:  Los Angeles Times


Master decoder sees Earth’s future in a petri dish

November 26, 2007

The Los Angeles Times published a decent interview with Craig Venter over the weekend.  The following are some interesting questions and answers:

Do you think DNA is everywhere?

I’m sure we’ll find organisms in outer space.

What makes you think extraterrestrials have DNA?

My personal guess is it will be ubiquitous throughout the universe. My favorite statistic is in our own galaxy: We have 100,000 Earth and super-Earth planets. I think the same chemicals get together to form planets. My guess is biology and life as we know it will be one of the universal aspects of the universe.

What is this new field of synthetic biology that you’re working on now?

We’re designing genomes to do what we want. I’ve described these as the design components of the future. If you liken that to the electronics industry in the 1950s, there were a handful of components — resistors, transistors, capacitors. We will have tens of millions of design components for biology.

What sort of things do you imagine could be built?

We’re trying to design cells that produce unique renewable fuels. We have one of those in extensive testing now that could be one of the first green jet fuels. Hopefully there’ll be hundreds of these. With this breadth of biology, we have the capability of probably making any chemical out there. It’s not hard even to imagine gasoline or octane that we put into our tanks. Bacteria can make that.

Read the whole interview here: Los Angeles Times

My Genome, Myself: Seeking Clues in DNA

November 17, 2007

The exploration of the human genome has long been relegated to elite scientists in research laboratories. But that is about to change.

An infant industry is capitalizing on the plunging cost of genetic testing technology to offer any individual unprecedented — and unmediated — entree to their own DNA.

For as little as $1,000 and a saliva sample, customers will be able to learn what is known so far about how the billions of bits in their biological code shape who they are. Three companies have already announced plans to market such services, one yesterday.

Source:  New York Times 

In the Genome Race, the Sequel Is Personal

September 4, 2007

The race to decode the human genome may not be entirely over: the loser has come up with a new approach that may let him prevail in the end.

In 2003, a government-financed consortium of academic centers announced it had completed the human genome, fending off a determined challenge from the biologist J. Craig Venter. The consortium’s genome comprised just half the DNA contained in a normal cell, and the DNA used in the project came from a group of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

But the loser in the race, Dr. Venter, could still have the last word. In a paper published today, his research team is announcing that it has decoded a new version of the human genome that some experts believe may be better than the consortium’s.

Called a full, or diploid genome, it consists of the DNA in both sets of chromosomes, one from each parent, and it is the normal genome possessed by almost all the body’s cells. And the genome the team has decoded belongs to just one person: Dr. Venter.

Full article:  New York Times

Scientists map key gene regulators

January 17, 2007

United Press International on news that scientists have mapped key points in the human genome which may lead to therapies for cancer and other diseases.

The mapping tool could help uncover important clues for understanding and diagnosing cancer and other diseases. It may shed light on the role of nucleosomes in the process of “reprogramming” an adult cell to its original embryonic state, which is a critical operation in cloning.

Study Detects a Gene Linked to Alzheimer’s

January 15, 2007

New York Times article on how a variant gene involved in Alzheimer’s disease has been detected through study of Dominican families living in Manhattan.

Researchers hope that the more Alzheimer-associated genes they find, the more possible targets will emerge both for drugs and for diagnostic tests that can tell who is at risk for the disease.

“Who wants an ugly, stupid kid?”

January 13, 2007

BRAVE NEW WORLD UPDATE:  FDA investigating Texas embryo business

The above quote is attributed to the obviously classy Jennalee Ryan, the person who runs the Abraham Center of Life. 

The center, which is now under investigation, produces batches of ready-made embryos and lets prospective parents select one based on the donors’ looks, ethnicity, education and other factors.

An FDA spokesperson would not eleborate on why her in-home business is being investigated.

A Brave New World in Texas

January 6, 2007

Washington Post article on a Texas company that has started producing batches of ready-made embryos that single women and infertile couples can order.

Customers can review detailed information about the race, education, appearance, personality and other characteristics of the egg and sperm donors.

The Abraham Center of Life LLC of San Antonio is the first commercial dealer making embryos in advance for unspecified recipients.

Genetically Engineered Bovine Can’t Get Mad Cow

January 1, 2007

Washington Post article about scientists who have used genetic engineering techniques to produce the first cattle that may be biologically incapable of getting mad cow disease.

The animals, which lack a gene that is crucial to the disease’s progression, were not designed for use as food. They were created so that human pharmaceuticals can be made in their blood without the danger that those products might get contaminated with the infectious agent that causes mad cow.