Stories tagged genes

At least one clinic in the US is using preimplantation genetic testing (PGD) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) to allow parents to select traits such as the hair and eye color of their children. The clinic director expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year. (This technique has been used for years to help select embryos free sex-linked and other genetic diseases, but the deliberate selection of non-medical traits is new.)

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Up up down down left right left right B A start!: or was it IDDQD? Yes! Infinite lives and ammo.
Up up down down left right left right B A start!: or was it IDDQD? Yes! Infinite lives and ammo.Courtesy bramblejungle
A single gene has been isolated in male fruit flies that seems to somehow make them skilled at videogames, Dungeons and Dragons (all versions), and Star Trek trivia.

Scientists are not yet able to fully explain this phenomenon, but they believe that the gene may govern a pheromone receptor, and causes it to block or misinterpret chemical signals normal fruit flies receive as stimuli towards good hygiene, snappy dressing, and social interaction.

So skilled are these fruit flies at games and trivia, they are able to actually beat games that don’t exist, and answer questions about Next Generation episodes that never made it to filming. Likewise, these flies have often been observed “rolling” for everyday actions and commenting derisively on the stats of peers.

Read all about it here, friends.

New research is exploring the complex relationship between cancer and lifestyle. Doctors now say that if we lost weight, exercised and ate right, we could avoid some 70% of cancers. Food for thought.


Sandy Cohen attends a lecture on O.C. Theory genetics: He gets it.
Sandy Cohen attends a lecture on O.C. Theory genetics: He gets it.Courtesy lawgeek
Everytime I think I’ve got something figured out, science ups and throws something crazy my way. And when I say “crazy” I mean something I would prefer to explain as “magical.”

So, here’s what I understood so far:
Ryan is a smart but troubled kid from Chino (Where’s Chino? I don’t know either. The wrong side of the tracks, we’ll say.). After an incident with a stolen car, Ryan’s public defender, Sandy Cohen, takes pity on the kid (whose mother has recently abandoned him), and brings him back to his family’s extravagant Orange County home. Ryan quickly befriends Sandy’s quirky son, Seth, and – just as quickly – gets himself on the bad side of some of the children of Orange County’s elite, including water polo-playing Luke, who just happens to be the less than entirely faithful boyfriend of Marissa, who is the best friend of Summer (Seth’s lifelong and unattainable crush), and the Cohen’s neighbor (she’s a beautiful and conflicted classic girl-next-door). The chemistry between Ryan and Marissa is obvious from the start, adding confusion to her already difficult life (Marissa’s mother, Julie, is a narcissistic gold-digger, and her father is struggling with rising debts and his feelings for his high school flame Kirsten… Cohen), all of which is contributing to her developing alcohol problem. Meanwhile, as Seth continues to pine over Summer, cool and funky Anna steps into the picture. Anna appreciates the things Seth likes, and, more importantly, appreciates Seth. This would be great, if it weren’t for the fact that Summer starts notice to Seth at just about the same time! Oh boy! As if this all weren’t enough, over the course of the next few episodes Luke sleeps with Julie, who has her eyes on Caleb (Kirsten’s father, and the de facto duke of the O.C.), or at least on his pocketbook. And, just as Ryan is settling down at the Cohen’s, the household is tossed up as Sandy finds out about Kirsten’s substantial loan to Marissa’s father, which wouldn’t be so bad if he hadn’t also found out about the spur of the moment kiss the two of them shared while painting a model home. Also, Ryan is soon to find out that his ties with Chino aren’t so easily severed, as his ne’er do well brother sets foot in the O.C., and a former romance with a secret finds her way to the Cohen’s pool house…

See? It’s a lot to keep track of, but I was doing ok. Just today, however, I read an article in ScienceDaily and something entirely new and strange was thrown into this slurry we call life: genes are able to recognize similar genes from a distance, without the aid of proteins or “any other biological molecules.” Like, genes find each other by… by… magic! Do you fully understand the implications of these findings? Me neither, only that it means that genes are ever stranger and more confusing than I had previously thought!

Homologous recombination” occurs when two sets of DNA come together, split their double helixes, and swap sections of genetic information. Recombination is vital for DNA repair, and also for evolution and natural selection. Recombination occurs, for instance, when your parents’ genes come together to make your genes, or when Ryan and Theresa come together to make the cliffhanger for season two. It’s important that genes match up with similar sets of other genes, because faulty combinations are believed to cause some genetically determined diseases like Alzheimer’s and some cancers.

While the first set of interactions and combinations I described can easily be tracked through DVD observation, scientists were forced to fluorescently tag DNA molecules and watch their behavior under a microscope to understand the mysteries of gene recombination. It turns out that the longer a strand of DNA is, the more powerful the mechanism for recognizing a similar strand is.

The two described scenarios, however, may be similar in one sense: the forces of attraction involved between the elements at play. In the case of the denizens of Orange County, I would certainly describe the attractions as “electrical” – sparks fly, and the pull between characters is magnetic. It may be that such a description applies to the recombining genes as well. While no chemical interaction appears between multiple sets of similar genes, it has been proposed that the reason the seek each other out has to do with the “complementary patterns of electrical charges which they both carry.”

The research team that made this discovery is already designing further sets of experiments to explore the interactions between genes. I’m sure they involve microscopes, and chemicals and things, but it seems to me that the scientists might benefit from thinking outside of the box in this area. Like, one might observe how genes interact if a wedding ring is placed over one section of the petri dish, and what changes when the ring is removed and accidentally washed down a sink. Or a similar experiment might be valuable, if they used a wad of cash instead of the ring, and then have the cash disappear in a foolish investment scheme. These are natural forces I can get my head around.

A new study finds that obesity and over-eating may be caused by the lack of one single gene. (Though there are certainly other causes as well.)

Seems like only yesterday the government was forking over billions of dollars to sequence the human genome. Today, anybody can have their personal DNA sequenced for about $1,000. Previously, doctors would test a patient’s DNA only for a few specific genes that might be related to their condition. Now, perfectly healthy people can have their entire DNA tested (well, about 1/3,000th of it, anyway), to look for all known genetic conditions.


Would have cancer killed Lincoln?: An author/physician theorizes that Abraham Lincoln would have soon died from a rare form of cancer if he had not been assassinated at Ford's Theater in 1865.
Would have cancer killed Lincoln?: An author/physician theorizes that Abraham Lincoln would have soon died from a rare form of cancer if he had not been assassinated at Ford's Theater in 1865.Courtesy Civics Online
I just finished reading an incredible book about Abraham Lincoln – Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln -- by Doris Kearns Godwin. Of course, it ends with his assassination at Ford’s Theater right after the end of the Civil War.

Much to my surprise today, I come across a headline that at the time of his death, Lincoln may have only had about six months to live due to the effects of a rare type of cancer. Doctor/author John G. Sotos makes the case for Lincoln’s cancer diagnosis in an upcoming book.

One thing that struck me in Team of Rivals, which is written based on thousands of letters and diaries written by Lincoln’s associates during the time he was alive, was that most were first impressed and/or put off by his unusual appearance. Sotos theorizes that those appearances were related to Lincoln’s cancer.

Sotos thinks Lincoln suffered from MEN 2B, a genetic form of cancer that can account for unusual height along with unusual facial features – lumps of nervous tissue on the eyelids, tongue and lips. Sotos also thinks one of Lincoln’s sons died from the same type of cancer

And CSI-type techniques may come into play to see if Sotos is right. A small sampling of DNA is all that ‘s needed to check the condition of chromosome 10 of Lincoln’s genetic code to see if it shows signs of MEN 2B. Samples of his DNA can be collected from any of the many blood-stained fabrics that have been preserved from Lincoln’s death, or from the eight skull fragments that were preserved from the president’s autopsy.

If it is determined that Lincoln had MEN 2B, he’d be the earliest recorded case of that type of cancer. But as news of this theory has spread, there are already other members of the medical community saying that it isn’t possible.

What do you think? Should efforts be made to test some of Lincoln’s remains for MEN 2B? Or should we leave the remains alone and keep it a mystery? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

If you want to learn more about this, here’s the link to an extensive Washington Post article on the topic.

Wired Magazine has a feature on National Geographic's massive gene database project. They hope to track how humans have moved through the world by looking at mutations in our mother's DNA.


All night long: Scientists have found a gene that leads to increased nighttime activity. Photo by paperocks a.k.a. evalinda at
All night long: Scientists have found a gene that leads to increased nighttime activity. Photo by paperocks a.k.a. evalinda at

Scientists in England have discovered a gene which regulates the internal body clock of mice. Mice with a particular mutation of the gene operated on a 27-hour cycle, rather than a 24-hour cycle, and thus stayed active later into the night. A similar gene in humans could help explain why some people are night owls while others are early birds. And research into this gene may lead to new treatments for sleep disorders.

No word on whether the gene makes you want to boogie-oogie-oogie till you just can’t boogie no more…


Help! Patent attack.: Somebody patented my face and I can't get it off.
Help! Patent attack.: Somebody patented my face and I can't get it off.

For once I agree with Michael Crichton. Allowing companies to hold patents on parts of the human genome is a very bad idea. Crichton wrote a great editorial in Feb. 13th's New York Times illustrating why human gene patents are such poppycock. It is a short read but it really got my blood boiling.

I was surprised to find out that one-fifth of the the human genome has already been patented by companies in the US. But a couple smart politicians, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat from California, and Dave Weldon, a Republican from Florida (yes Gene, I do think science and politics should mix) are introducing legislation that will stop this.

“We seek simply to fix a regulatory mistake,” Rep. Becerra said. “Genes are a product of nature; they were not created by man, but instead are the very blueprint that creates man, and thus, are not patentable. Gene patenting would be the analogous equivalent to patenting water, air, birds or diamonds.

Some people think that patents cause competition between companies that results in more active research. While others think that human gene patents actually inhibit research and are morally wrong. Tell us what you think below or vote in our poll, Should companies be able to patent human genes?

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