Stories tagged genetics

A study done by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University shows that 8 in 10 Americans "believe genetic testing should be made easily available to all those who need it." The same study shows that 57% of Americans think research using embryonic stem cells should be allowed.

Buzz stories tagged "genetic testing"

Nov
20
2008

Man vs. mammoth: Is a face-off like this in our future...again?
Man vs. mammoth: Is a face-off like this in our future...again?Courtesy redskunk
Scientists are another step closer to making Jurassic Park a reality. Well, not quite Jurassic Park, but certainly Pleistocene Park.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have decoded 80 percent of the DNA for the woolly mammoth, an elephant ancestor that went extinct about 10,000 years ago. The results of their study appear in the journal Nature.

The DNA was extracted from actual mammoth hair found preserved in the permafrost of Siberia. Hair encapsulates DNA, providing a purer source of the genetic material than that found in fossil bones that are vulnerable to contamination by bacteria and other creatures involved in decomposition. We covered this in a previous post.

About six million years of evolution separate the wooly mammoth from its modern descendents the Indian and African elephants. And so far they appear genetically to be very similar, although a complete assessment of differences won’t be available until the complete genomes of mammoths and modern elephants are mapped. The data sets for each is comprised of about 4 billion DNA bases.

But even then you don’t have to worry about rogue mammoths running amok on the interstates (have you ever hit a moose? Multiply that experience by about 15). Science is still decades away from cloning an actual specimen – or even a hybrid with a living elephant - from the genetic material. The technology just isn’t there yet. But that’s not the only thing in the way.

"It could be done,” said co-author Stephan Schuster, a biochemistry professor at Penn State. “The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?"

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? The same question was posed by one of the characters in Michael Crichton's book Jurassic Park just before things got really hairy.

SOURCES and LINKS

Penn State's mammoth research page
Live Science story
Previous Buzz story on mammoth cloning

Nov
17
2008

This isn't me: It's some other handsome devil.
This isn't me: It's some other handsome devil.Courtesy Max Sparber
It’s true! And these facial scars aren’t from chicken pox or acne, no sir. Do you need me to provide a description of each scar and what it’s from? No, it’s no problem at all! Really. Here:

The parallel lines on my left cheek and jaw line: I call them “The Empire Builder” and they’re from the time a tiger bit me in the face. The tiger and I were wrestling, and things got serious when the beast realized that it was losing.

The two small circles on my right cheek: These are from getting shot by the vice-president. Which vice-president? Dan Quayle. He shot me twice in the mouf with a handgun. We were wresting, and things got serious… It was only a .22, though, so I don’t hold it against him. The man has enough problems.

The cheese-grater chin: I don’t know what it’s from, and that’s why I call it “Mr. E.” All I know is that I woke up tied to a snowmobile, underwater, with a sore chin. When I broke the surface, I was surprised to find myself in the Stillwater Junior High School swimming pool.

The lightning bolt running over the right side of my mouth: I call this one “The Harry Potter.” It’s from the other time a tiger bit me in the face.

So… What do y’all think? Pretty attractive, am I right?

Think about your answer carefully—you wouldn’t want to imply that the journal Personality and Individual Differences is a liar.

See, a new study published in the journal seems to indicate that women are attracted to men with facial scars, at least for short-term relationships. The best scars, too, aren’t from surgery or a scarring skin condition; the scars women in the study found the most attractive appeared to have been inflicted through violence of some kind.

The scientists behind the study (and it wasn’t mentioned as it whether or not they had scarred faces) believed that the scars implied that a potential mate was more aggressive, or had a greater risk taking personality. The scars could also suggest “good genes or a strong immune system.” So your scarred guy could have some nice, powerful genetic material, but may not necessarily be the type you want to pair up with for a long-term relationship.

Nov
11
2008

If anything, sir, you're making it worse: You can wring out the sweat, but not the stink.
If anything, sir, you're making it worse: You can wring out the sweat, but not the stink.Courtesy The Michael
Yeah. Sorry. I don’t make the rules—y’all just have your own weird odors, and there’s nothing you can do to change them. Frowny face.

But, today of all days, try to get past your own problems (though they are disgusting and abounding) and be grateful to the men and women who have fought for your country. Or think about Armistice Day, and the moment on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, when the bloodiest war the world had ever seen finally came to an end.

No? That’s not doing it for you? Still stuck on yourself? Fine. We’ll deal with that first.

Oh, by the way, the statement about your having a unique, personal stink is predicated on my assumption that you’re all mice. Not figure-of-speech mice, but actual little rodents. Who have computers and can read. (And, really, what illiterate mice are going to have computers? It just goes to show that you won’t be getting ahead without an education.) Even if you aren’t mice, however, I suppose there’s a decent chance that the personal odor think applies to you (you might not be conscious of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there).

There are all kinds of things that can affect your stank. You should know that by now. Bacteria, for one, love eating your excretions and covering you with effluvia of their own. It smells bad. And your excretions aren’t necessarily a walk in the rose garden in the first place. Depending on what you eat, you can end up smelling like the dumpster behind a German restaurant (I’m thinking onions, garlic, and red meat here) or the dumpster behind a South Asian restaurant (ah, sotolon). Really, you could smell like any number of dumpsters across the globe, depending on your tastes.

But it turns out that no matter what stank you might give yourself with all that coffee and garlic pizza, you’ve got a unique stank that’s all your own, and there’s nothing to be done to change it.

See, scientists have been watching little mousies, and they’ve found that although body odors brought about by diet can be confusing to mice in identifying other individuals by their odor, there remains a unique, identifiable, genetically-influenced smell in each mouse, despite the particulars of its diet.

That was a long and bad sentence. What I meant to say was this: no matter what you eat, it seems that you have an unchangeable, unique smell. It says so here. And in far fewer words here.

What’s the upshot of this? First of all, it’s like I said: you’re hopeless, Oldspice. However, the research also suggests that someday technology could be developed that would identify individuals by their unique odor “fingerprints.” A personal odor database could be developed. Think about that—you put your fist through a bakery window just once, and the fuzz has your stink on file forever. Or maybe you wouldn’t have to show your passport to get on a plane—a robot could just sniff you. Another robot, anyway.

A brave new future, huh?

Nov
10
2008

Sorry, kid, you're barking up the wrong tree: Otzi ain't yer dad. And, whoever you pops is, I doubt you dressing up like that will make him love you any more.
Sorry, kid, you're barking up the wrong tree: Otzi ain't yer dad. And, whoever you pops is, I doubt you dressing up like that will make him love you any more.Courtesy japi14
I think this came out a couple weeks ago, so maybe it’s old news to y’all—although, technically, I suppose it’s old news to everyone.

Otzi (Remember? Otzi the Iceman?) died alone.

No, wait, that didn’t come out right. Otzi the Iceman didn’t die alone—he probably died surrounded by his killers, after they had shot him in the chest with an arrow, as one of them likely finished him off by clubbing his skull in. What I meant was Otzi died alone in the genetic sense, with no one to carry on his legacy. (His legacy of being a five-foot-five total badass.)

It turns out that Otzi, in spite of his many, many admirable qualities, probably had no children. Or, at least, that Otzi’s lineage has died out since the time of his death.

Previous studies had suggested that Otzi may have had living descendants somewhere in Europe, but recent genetic research has shown that this is unlikely. Italian and British scientists have analyzed the iceman’s mitochondrial DNA—which is passed on solely matrilineally—and the results seem to indicate that Otzi was part of a heretofore unknown genetic line, and one that has probably gone extinct.

Oh, fudge. And here I was, still holding out hope.

What gives, caveladies? What was so bad about the little iceman? Too tough, I’m guessing. The same reason women could never get truly close to the Fonz.

*It occurs to me that Otzi could have had a child himself, and his mitochondrial DNA wouldn’t have been passed on. Maybe he just had equally intimidating sisters.

Oct
29
2008

He can teach you much, but give you nothing: Wait... Is this man even handsome? This IS complicated!
He can teach you much, but give you nothing: Wait... Is this man even handsome? This IS complicated!Courtesy monseurlam
Sorry to break it to you, dudes, but you aren’t just ugly ducklings—you’re just ugly. Or, if you are mirror-melting hot, those good looks are an invention all of your own, so skip the father’s day present, and get yourself something nice.

See, guys and boys, you’re dad may have taught you how to gut a possum, and he might even have given you your first possum-gutting knife, but he didn’t give you the looks that attracted all those hungry eyes at the possum market. He saved those for your sister.

It turns out that men don’t inherit their fathers’ “attractiveness”. Fathers do pass on masculine features to their sons, but there doesn’t seem to be any strong correlation between attractive fathers (or, technically, “hot dads”) and attractive sons. So says the journal Animal Behaviour.

By rating the images of hundreds of males and females, and their respective parents, the recent study hoped to test the theory that women seek out attractive mates to produce sexy male offspring, who will in turn pass on their mother’s genes.

Uh uh. The study found that hot dads didn’t necessarily have hot boys, and that unattractive fathers (or “ug dads”) didn’t necessarily have ug boys. In fact, the study found no evidence of male-to-male attractiveness inheritance at all. So that beautiful bone structure, those sparkling eyes, that indefinable something that makes you so, so foxy… where did that come from? Your mother, perhaps?

Nope, attractiveness doesn’t seem to come from your mom either. It seems that when boys are born, they’re cast out into the Land of Fug to fend for themselves, and if they find a sunny hilltop to build a face on, they have to do it on their own.

Mothers, the study found, do pass on attractiveness to their daughters. And, ironically, so do fathers—hot dads are likely to have attractive daughters. That means that daughters are getting all those good looks funneled into them from both sides! Ooooh, I hate them so much!

It’s like the legend of Puss in Boots, really. The wealthy old miller and his wife (who I believe was some sort of novelty hat heiress) were on their deathbeds at the same time (food poisoning, I believe), and were deciding how to divvy up their vast wealth between their two sons and one daughter. Keep in mind, this was before division was invented, so the two dying parents decided that the fairest thing to do would be to give all their money to the daughter and none to the sons. The daughter lived a long and very happy life, and no more needs to be said about her. One of the sons died more or less on the spot (food poisoning, I believe), and the other grabbed the miller’s cat and did a runner.

The stolen cat may or may not have had a plan for the surviving son’s well-being, but there was no way to tell, because the cat couldn’t speak English, and the son couldn’t speak Cat. So, making the best of what he had, the son forgot to feed the cat until it died, and then took its fur. (And this was clever in itself, because the son was still too poor to afford a knife, and he had to be creative—that’s where the saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” comes from.) The son then used the beautiful fur (it was a good cat) to make an attractive fur hat (a skill he learned from his mother), which he sold to a local eccentric. The profits from the sale were then invested in the construction of a new animal shelter/hat factory. The venture proved to be a lucrative one, and it kept the man in stockings and gin for the rest of his life, until he burned the factory down so that his own son couldn’t inherit it.

Do you see the connection? If you replace all references to money in the story with the word “hotness,” the analogy is particularly apt.

Oct
26
2008

Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'
Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'Courtesy Art Oglesby

Honeycrisp, my favorite apple

Around the end of September I eagerly visit an apple orchard to stock up on Honeycrisp apples. I first experienced Honeycrisp apples back when they were first released in 1991 because I lived next door to Jack Kelly and what is now part of Apple Jack Orchards. I was impressed by the "explosively crisp" snap as you bite into the apple and its sweet, juicy flavor that also has a hint of tartness. Here is a quote about the Honeycrisp apple from the University of Minnesota Extension:

Honeycrisp fruit is characterized by an exceptionally crisp and juicy texture. Its flesh is cream colored and coarse. The flavor is sub-acid and ranges from mild and well-balanced to strongly aromatic, depending on the degree of maturity. It has consistently ranked as one of the highest quality apples in the University of Minnesota sensory evaluations.

The Honeycrisp story is remarkable

I first read the amazing story about how the Honeycrisp was developed in the City Pages. James J. Luby and David S. Bedford, working within the Department of Horticultural Science University of Minnesota, have given a big boost to Minnesota's apple growers and the horticulture department.

Bedford calls it a "lifesaver." According to the university's office of technology commercialization, Honeycrisp has generated $6.3 million for the institution, placing it among the school's top five most lucrative inventions. (The U receives $1.35 a tree and splits royalty income in thirds, with one portion going to the inventors, another to the college and department where the faculty work, and the third into a general research fund.)

How the Honeycrisp apple is produced

Apple breeder David Bedford tastes between 500 and 600 apples every day. Bedford is trying to find the genetic gems from among the nearly 20,000 trees in the horticulture department's orchards. Only 15 or so have the "wow" that allows their genetics to advance to the next round. Hand pollinating select blossoms and using wax bags to prevent any stray pollination, produces the next generation of seeds. The ancestors of the Honeycrisp were in the crop of 1960. A bad freeze almost eliminated the genetic line in 1980. When the parent trees were killed by a 1 in 50 yr. freeze, the offspring were classified as unacceptable. Bedford decided to let them have a chance, and

A few years later, when the clones began bearing fruit, Bedford was shocked by the apples' crispness and juiciness, which reminded him of an Asian pear. "The thing I remember was that the texture was so unusual, I wasn't sure if it was good or bad," he says.

Read more about the Honeycrisp saga

The complete story is fascinating. You can read more by clicking the City Pages link. Probably the best description of the Honeycrisp apple sage is told at MinnesotaHarvest.net. An addendum within this webpage added this surprising quote:

Records and public releases from the University of Minnesota from 1991 to the present have identified the parentage of Honeycrisp as the cross 'Macoun' x 'Honeygold'. But recently completed DNA testing has determined that neither Macoun nor Honeygold are parents of Honeycrisp.

The testing determined for certain that Keepsake, another apple from the University of Minnesota's apple breeding program that was released in 1978, is one of the parents. But, despite extensive searching, the other parent has not been identified. There is no DNA match among any of the varieties that are thought to be possible parents.

The University's Research Center routinely crosses and plants thousands of seeds annually, moving them and the resulting seedling trees from place to place over a period of years, so there are multiple points where a mix-up could take place.

Oct
15
2008

A goral goat: Nice trick, goat, but we saw through it. Feeling a little sheepish now, huh?
A goral goat: Nice trick, goat, but we saw through it. Feeling a little sheepish now, huh?Courtesy Opencage
Do y’all remember that exhilarating and frightening moment in late July when some fresh “Yeti” hair was found? Oh, come on—you remember. Think back. You probably had some bowel spasms. I posted about it.

If you’re not into checking out links, the basic story was this: a man in a heavily forested region of northeast India had collected some strange hairs from an area where there had been several sightings in the last few days of a large, Bigfoot-like creature. The hairs couldn’t immediately be identified, but they looked a little like the “yeti hair” collected by Sir Edmund Hilary on his famous yeti hunt (I’m using quotation marks there because the “yeti” hair came from a “deer” and Hilary probably knew it). So the hairs were sent to a lab for DNA testing.

And the results are in.

It was a goat. Not a huge, hairy man-beast. Not a jovial, crook-legged goat-boy. A Himalayan Gray Goral (goat).

This might be a disappointment for the Bigfoot enthusiasts of India’s Garo Hills region (although they insist that the creature is still out there, even if it isn’t leaving its own hair around), but, in its own way, it’s an interesting discovery. The goral was never thought to roam that far south in India—it was believed to only live in the Himalayas, at elevations above 1,000 meters.

So, while we haven’t uncovered indisputable genetic evidence of a South Asian ape-man, our time on the cryptocouch hasn’t been a total waste—we’ve come out with a more practical (if less spectacular) discovery about a mundane animal.

Oct
02
2008

You kids get out of here!: Are those cigarettes? What do you have under that hat? Is that a gang sign?
You kids get out of here!: Are those cigarettes? What do you have under that hat? Is that a gang sign?Courtesy fromagie
I’m tired of you hanging around with those riff raff friends of yours. I hear that they smoke. Do you think smoking is cool? Is cancer cool too, then?

And y’all listen to that loud gang music, and I know what that music is about: it’s about devil worship. Devil worship and gangs.

And no son of mine is going to wear eyeliner and dog collars. What do you think you are? A dog? A prostitute? Some kind of prostitute dog?

Didn’t I raise you right, Junior? Where’d all this garbage behavior come from?

And pause!

What’s happening here, folks? Where did Junior’s delinquent behavior come from? Well, I’ll tell you where it came from: it came from his parents, in more ways than one.

Recent genetic research has shown that the tendency of adolescent males to associate with delinquent peers has strong association with a particular variation of the dopamine transporter gene, DAT1. So, basically, there’s a genetic influence behind nogoodniks sticking together.

It’s sort of a disturbing finding, when you consider past efforts to isolate—and eliminate—“unfavorable” genetic traits (it’s called eugenics, and it’s bad, bad news). However, the research also demonstrated that not all males with the DAT1 variation were more inclined to associate with delinquent peers. In fact, a large group of boys with the genetic variation showed no increased tendency towards delinquent peer groups at all: boys with highly engaged and warm families.

Family environment seemed to be the deciding factor in a kid’s chosen social group. Boys most likely to run with a bad crowd had the DAT1 variations and a family life marked by maternal disengagement and lack of affection.

Once again, the answer to “Nature or Nurture?” seems to be, “yes.”

Oct
01
2008

Cute, nautical, and Scandinavian: But probably smaller.
Cute, nautical, and Scandinavian: But probably smaller.Courtesy hans s
So… we’re learning about genetics, aren’t we? We can’t help it—here we have see-through frogs, there we have genetically engineered vegetables, here we have a fatherless child with the same hair color, eye color, and blood type as me. Genetics are all around us these days, in our schools, in our dinners, and calling our lawyers. As much as we might try to hide from it, the subject is unavoidable.

It’s nice, then, when some aspect of this genetic tsunami can take our minds off of all the tricky stuff. Things like mutant frogs are fun (All those legs! Somebody give them their own cartoon!), but they never last long (The frogs tend to die. Cancel the frog show.)

I think, however, that I may have found a winner: Viking mice. They’re genetically remarkable, and they’re lifespan is the same as any other mouse: about 2 or 3 years. Somebody start work on a Viking Mouse cartoon!

So what we have here is your common house mouse. The house mouse evolved into a variety of different strains as it spread into Western Europe about 3,000 years ago, during the Iron Age. Little French house mice learned to wear berets and smoke cigarettes, German mice developed a love of sausages and efficiency, and so forth; the Iron Age was a wonderful time, and it birthed many of our favorite cultural stereotypes. However, something interesting has come up in a recent genetic study of British house mice.

The surprising result of a nationwide rash of mouse paternity cases, the mice of Britain were surprised to find that they themselves were the products of unexpected parents. Studying their mitochondrial DNA (traceable genetic material from the mother’s side), it appears that most mice from mainland Britain are closely related to mice from Germany (the descendants of little Saxon mice?). Mice from the Orkney Islands of Northern Scotland, however, were found to be “Viking mice,” genetically similar to mice from Norway. And it makes sense—the Orkneys were an important center of the Norwegian Viking “kingdom,” back in the 11th and 12th centuries. These little mousies are the descendants of the warlike Viking mice, who hitched rides across the North Sea in the holds of Viking longboats a thousand years ago. Or… maybe they had their own tiny boats… Viking mice!

We pretty much already knew that Vikings were in the Orkneys at that time, but the genetic evidence from the mice are is a good example of how non-human DNA (mitochondrial DNA in particular) can be a tool for tracking other historical human migrations, and… and…

Just picture those little Viking mice. Tiny helmets, curly little beards, squeaky battle cries… they must have been adorable. Just to see them slaughtering little monk mice, it must have been too cute.

Oh, also, while we’re on the subject of house mice—I noticed this little section in Wikipedia’s article on them. After being accidentally introduced to the south Atlantic Gough Island, house mice, which normally have a body length of about 3 inches, began growing “unusually large” and feeding on albatross chicks. The mice kill the chicks, which can be about a meter tall, by “working in groups and gnawing on them until the bleed to death.” Talk about Viking mice.