Biggest Ever Epigenetics Project!!

 

Marian_and_Vivian_Brown

Identical Twins

 

This article is about a project that has recently been planned out with respect to

epigenetics. It is the largest project to date and will cost around $30,000,000 to complete. Epigenetics is the study of cellular and psychological trait variations that are not caused by DNA sequence, but rather what within the DNA is triggered and shown. It is a relatively new field and has exploded in recent years. The heads of this project are TwinsUK and BGI, both very credited organizations in the realm of epigenetics. Epigenetics is the newest and recently the most popular field of all genetics and the goal of this project is to use the twins and the resources given to understand why and how epigenetics occurs.

The plan is to review the patterns of 20,000,000 sites in the DNA of each identical twin (they must be identical because their DNA must be the same and not vary) and compare the DNA with the other twins. The aim is to not look at similarities, but to look at differences and figure out how twins get different diseases if their DNA is identical. They will focus on obesity, diabetes, allergies, heart diseases, etc. at first. Until recently, science did not understand why twins could receive different diseases since their DNA is identical to their other twin, but by studying epigenetics and how genes can be triggered to do different things based on surroundings and circumstance, this idea is plausible.

Being able to locate what genes turn on to trigger certain diseases along with how to control this is something that will benefit not only our general knowledge but will also advance health care to levels that it has never seen. Experiments such as this have been done before but only with a handful of twins. The goal in this experiment is to increase the amount of twins tremendously in order to increase the accuracy of their data.

The Executive Director of BGI, Professor Jun Wang stated that the goal of this experiment is to “unlock many secrets about human genetics that we don’t currently understand, and to accelerate research and applications in human healthcare.”

 

Could There be Good Gene Mutations?

Is there an epic battle occurring within our bodies right now? The classic battle royale between good and bad? I suppose in the body’s case the fight between good and bad genes.  There is a new field in medical research in which researchers are on the quest to find good gene mutations that fight against the disease causing mutations.  One individual, Doug Whitney, sparked the interest of a few doctors because he has fought his genetic odds to be health at 65 years old.  Whitney has a gene mutation, presenilin, that causes early onset Alzheimer’s disease in those who has inherited it. Whitney’s mother and 9 out of his 13 siblings were killed by this mutation and so Whitney’s fate seemed to be sealed.  However when Whitney reached his 40s and 50s having no symptoms he assumed he did not have the gene.  At 62 years old, Whitney, decided he would get a gene test.  He did have the gene.  This was an anomaly, He was doomed to have early onset Alzheimer’s Disease but had absolutely no symptoms. Although Whitney still have changes of getting Alzhiemers but the effects of his bad gene have been greatly delayed by another gene in Whitney’s DNA.  Whitney joined a study at Washington University in St. Louis led by Doctor Randall Bateman which recruited people with the early onset Alzheimer’s disease gene. This attracted the attention of Doctor Eric E. Schadt and Doctor Stephen H. Friend.  Doctor Schadt said that searching for good genes that protect against bad gene mutations is completely turning genetic research on its head.  Researchers have found gene mutations that partially protect diseases like osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.  These good gene mutation’s partial protect have help to develop drugs to help fight certain diseases. Finding good gene mutations are substantially more difficult to find than bad genes, but the search has gotten a little easier with fast and inexpensive methods of sequencing DNA. Doctor Schadt and Doctor Friend decided to start the Resilience Project and search for good gene mutations that counteract bad gene mutations to help develop new break though treatments and drugs. They have contacted the researchers at Washington University, the research that Whitney is currently participating in.

For more information:

Article from NYT

Prokaryotic positive genetic influences

Genetics used for intrusion protection

About genetic testing

 

To Know or Not to Know: Cancer Risk Gene Testing

Breast Cancer Cells

Genetic mutation testing has been a hotly debated and controversial topic since its initial prevalence in 1990.  Originally genetic testing was used to test females who have cancer in their family history for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations.  Early detection of these mutations allowed for precautionary measure sure to be exercised prior to cancer even being diagnosed. The hereditary breast cancer risk testing was done mainly by Myraid Genetics but just last year the Supreme Court invalidated Myraid’s patents on the testing of the BRCA genes.  This ruling opened up many windows for the competition of Myraid in the field of genetic testing.  Many other companies and Myraid itself began not only offering BRCA testing but also more elaborate multi gene testing for the same price (apron $4000) as it would have been to test just the two BRCA genes.  This “bargain” influenced many patients to have more genes (up to 25) tested for mutations despite the fact that they may not have a family history to tendency towards certain cancers.  This multiplex testing has raised many eyebrows in the medical field because patients and doctors are getting information that sometimes they are unsure as to what they should do.  Doctor Kenneth Offit of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center stated when referring to multiple gene mutation testing, “because they could be tested,not necessarily because they should be…individuals are getting results we’re not fully educated to council them on. ” However Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is working on setting up a database for more knowledge on genetic testing.  This online forum, the Prospective Registry of Multiplex Testing (PROMPT) will allow for more research to be done and for patients to learn more.   Often genetic mutations are found and doctors are unsure how to react to the information due to lack of knowledge in that specific field of mutation leading to a specific type of cancer with out any family history.   Professor Mary-Claire King of the University of Washington voiced her opinion that, “We need to report back only what is devastating and clearly devastating.”  Meaning she felt that patients and physicians should only receive specific information as opposed to a full list of all the genetic mutations that tested position or inconclusive.  When do we know when to much information become frivolous? When it come to human health, the more we know the better the outcomes.  How will doctors be able to sift through extraneous data to find what truly are indications for higher risk of cancer?  Is this “extra” testing and information skewing the data and prognosis of many patients?

 

Main Article Used:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/23/health/finding-risks-not-answers-in-gene-tests.html?ref=health&_r=0

 

Echinacea’s Habitat Decline

The plant that is commonly used to treat flu and cold symptoms, Echinacea, is beginning to suffer from a disappearing habitat. A flowering plant part of the daisy familyEchinacea grows in central and North America in mostly dry, wooded areas. As one of the “top five” herbal remedies sold in retail stores, the coneflower is regarded as an American staple to relieve suffers’ of the cold and flu. However, their habitat is in decline from human activities, bees, and deadly aphids

EchinaceaPurpureaMaxima1a.UME          Certain human activities have caused wildlands to shrink and splintered the landscape. As one of the most endangered habitats in the world, tailgrass prairie is throughly studied by scientists in order to track how Echinacea reacting to its changing environment and they are also working to save these prairie patches.

Bees have been known by scientists to pollinate the coneflower plant, Dr. Wagenius says “A bee might have been able to fly across a hundred mile expanse of coneflowers. Could it still do that today? No way.” Pollination for these plants is not at all where it should be, as bees can only pollinate these plants up to short distances.

Coneflower plants are now becoming genetically related in the prairies. If a bee brings pollen to these different plant siblings, the plant may reject the pollen. Therefore, there are no new seeds and populations decrease. A new danger to the coneflower is aphids; they devour prairies of Echinacea. As well, scientists urge prairie farmers to set fire to habitats (since they are necessary to these ecosystems). By inducing the plant to flower, new genetic diversity may be reached.

Junk DNA Shaping Your Face?

DNA_Double_Helix

So called “junk DNA” found in mice have been identified as major factors in the shaping of their faces. These findings are important because the same sequences are found in humans, and might be shaping ours. Junk DNA is named as such because it doesn’t code proteins, so it was originally thought to be “junk”. Scientists believe that these findings can help with research for congenital conditions such as cleft palates.

Geneticists have only, as of yet, been able to define a small number of the genes that influence human face shape, however there is a large variety of human faces. Axel Visel of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory believes that this variation is caused by “distant acting enhancers“: non coding regions of DNA that can influence facial shape.

Visel discovered these findings by using a technique called optical projection tomography where he developed three dimensional models of mouse embryos and saw how gene expression varied the faces.

Discovering enhancers that affect face shape could be an important step in preventing or fixing conditions such as cleft palate syndrome. What do you think about this research or its implications?

GATTACA review

Who ever knew a movie staring Jude Law, Uma Therman and Ethan Hawke does not just explore romance and drama but also takes a look into the revolutionizing and weary scientific future our world has yet to see!  The movie, GATTACA(standing for the 4 DNA bases-Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, Thymine, Adenine, Cytosine, Adenine), starts with the birth of Vincent Freeman, an ordinary child just like you and me.  But unfortunately for him, Vincent falls way below average in his society that revolves around eugenics.

I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science. –Vincent Freeman in GATTACA

This discrimination that Vincent is referring to is based on ones genetic profile.  In the GATTACA world, the creation of a child occurs in a lab, where there parents can choose what genes they want and don’t want their child to inherit, making for one, almost genetically perfect kid.  In the movie, they have facilities that resemble bank tellers but are in fact genetic “profilers”.  One can bring a strand of hair they found to the facility and receive a print out of that persons genetic profile, along with it stating if that person is Valid(genetically engineered) or invalid(ordinarily created).  Because Vincent was not created this way he is forever categorized as In-valid, causing him to have limited options in life, like not getting hired.

I don’t want to give away more of the story, but it goes into deep investigation of what this world, that potentially can one day happen, would be like.  It questions the morality and ethics behind genetic modification, profiling and discrimination.  It also shows a very depressed world devoid of joy.

In today’s world, we already have genome services similar to the ones in GATTACA. The company 23andMe can create your genetic profile with a swab of your DNA.  You can find out what your genetic ancestry is life, what disease you are at risk for, why you like the foods you like and so on.  Some people are very hesitant to viewing their genetic profile. after reading this article, of a women who had her genetic profile made through 23andMe, do you think you would want yours made?  Why or why not?

License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
Link to Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderferret/2854706889/
Photographer: wonderferret

Genetically Modified Food? Now You Can Know For Sure.

Whole Foods Market has officially become the first grocery store to require the labeling of all genetically modified foods. In an article published by The New York Times, on Friday, March 8th, Whole Foods Market announced that they will be labeling all genetically enhanced food products.

According to Whole Foods president A. C. Gallo, the new labeling requirement was implemente due to consumer demand. Mr. Gallo stated that that their “manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

Today, genetically modified foods are of great abundance in the global food supply. For example, most of the corn and soybeans grown here in the United States are genetically altered. The alterations make the soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Scientists are currently working on producing a genetically modified apple that will spoil less quickly, and genetically modified salmon that will grow faster.

What do you guys think of the position Whole Foods is taking with labeling their products? What are your thoughts on genetically modified food in general? Do you believe that genetically modified foods are safe for humans to consume? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

 

Epigenetics, Dads, and Obesity

 

By Ynse. Photo from Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/ynse/1531699476/

 

It turns out that kids with obese fathers have unique epigenetic changes that can affect their health… for the worse.

According to a recent study, “children with obese fathers have different epigenetic markings on the gene for insulin-type growth factor 2 (IGF2) than children with fathers of normal weight.”

Children with obese fathers have less methylation on a specific region of the IGF2 gene. Sadly, this occurrence is linked with many types of cancers such as ovarian cancer.

However, it is too soon to tell if these epigenetic changes are directly linked to the children’s’ health.

According to the biologist Gudrun Moore, “it is tempting to over-emphasize the role of a small number of parent-of-origin expressing genes and to speculate about the effects of modest variation in methylation, but we must not be too hasty to blame either parent for their offspring’s health outcomes.”

However, other researchers are sure that that your parent’s environment and habits affect children’s health.

According to Michael Skinner, this research “suggests that environmental epigenetics might be the mechanism for these effects.”

Maybe now both the mother and father have to be careful about what they eat during the pregnancy. Sorry Dads-to-be, you are going to have to eat healthy now!

For more information on epigenetics and health, you can visit these links.

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21565573-some-effects-smoking-may-be-passed-grandmother

http://healthletter.mayoclinic.com/editorial/editorial.cfm/i/249/t/Understanding%20epigenetics/

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ynse/1531699476/

Incredible New Gene-Searching Software

MIKI Yoshihito
http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2559447601

Joseph T. Glessner, of the Center for Applied Genomics at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia recently invented a new software tool that will revolutionize accuracy in genetic disease studies. The software called ParseCNV is an algorithm that “detects copy number variation associations with higher levels of  accuracy than that available in existing software,” says Mr. Glessner. This incredible software automatically corrects for variations in the length of deleted or duplicated DNA sequences from one individual to another and produces high quality, replicable results for researchers studying genetic diseases.

CNV stands for copy number variations which are sequences of DNA, ranging from 1000 to millions of nucleotide bases, which may be deleted or duplicated. These CNV’s are very difficult to find because they are so rare but so important in the discovery of genetic diseases. Previous methods to find the link between CNV’s and disease involved individual case-control studies, in which diseased DNA is compared to healthy DNA. This method does not work accurately because different people have different CNV’s which can effect the outcome of the diagnosis.

ParseCNV is incredible in that it can account for and adjust to so many differences in genes and has so much versatility in that it is applicable to family studies and quantitative analyses of continuous traits. I am really looking forward to seeing the future of this amazing algorithm and its contributions to genetic research.

The True Origins of HIV

There’s no doubt you’ve heard of HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The HIV virus, if left untreated can lead to AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which leads to progressive immune system failure (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV#Discovery). HIV didn’t become a problem in the United States until the 1980s, but was around long before then. Alfred Roca, an assistant Professor at the University of Illinois believes HIV was around for much longer than we believe.

 

The Origins 

HIV was thought to be originated from SIV, or Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, that infected Chimpanzees in Central Africa. About ninety percent of humans infected with HIV are infected with a strain called HIV-1 Type M, which was believed to have crossed the species barrier anywhere between 1884 and 1924. However, believes that HIV crossed the species barrier many times before 1884, but was most prevalent in rural areas, so it remained undetected.

 

Why it was a mystery

If HIV was around long before we initially thought, why did it remain undetected. According to Roca, “the persistence of HIV in humans requires population densities typically of larger cities that appeared in West Central Africa during the colonial period.” HIV didn’t spread amongst humans pre-1884 because the population was not dense enough. In addition, diseases spread much faster. Many people would have died early from diseases such as smallpox, and those with compromised immune systems would have been hit first, thus the disease couldn’t spread.

Map of the prevalence of HIV in the world, according to the 2008 UNAIDS Preport

Roca also believes that different strains of HIV could affect people with different genes. Using data from The Human Genome Project, Roca was able to analyze the DNA of the Biaka people, who live in the forests where the chimpanzees responsible for our current HIV pandemic reside and 4 other African populations which live outside the chimpanzees’ range. Research done in the 1980s concluded there are 26 genomic locations that help resist HIV.

The results of the research were astounding. Roca and his team identified four genes that code for proteins that affect the ability of the HIV to affect the host or the progression of the disease. Several of these genes were common among the Biaka people. Though the results aren’t definitive, they show that natural selection does play a part in the transfer of HIV to human populations, which is why the disease didn’t thrive earlier.

 

 

New Deadly Virus Discoved in Africa

Recently an article was released summarizing the discovery of a new disease in Africa. In 2009 a fifteen year old boy in a small village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo fell ill. The initial symptoms were malaise and a bloody nose, but quickly the boy developed an acute hemorrhagic fever. Within two days of the showing symptoms the boy died. Approximately eleven days later a thirteen year old girl who went to the same school as Patient One developed similar symptoms, and died three days later. At the local health center which both Patients One and Two visited, a thirty-two year old male nurse began to experience identical symptoms. He was moved to the hospital in Boma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the doctors drew blood and began to test for known viruses; they found nothing. However, very recently a research team used deep sequencing to determine the pathogen,which they dubbed “Bas-Congo Virus”, and posted their results in the Public Library of Science Journal. It was discovered that the virus belonged to the Rhabdoviridae family, best known for the Rabies virus. Interestingly enough, though, the Bas-Congo virus only shares 34% of the amino acids found in other Rhabdoviruses, meaning that it is very different. The discovery of this virus may end up being of great importance due to the possibility that the virus may return. In any case, we will have one less pathogen on this planet to identity lest there be another, more deadly, outbreak.

Identical but Not the Same

 

Some Rights Reserved. More Information: http://www.flickr.com/photos/timoni/3390886772/sizes/s/in/photostream/

After studying genetically inherited traits and diseases it could be easy to assume that genes determine everything about us. While it is true that colorblindness is a sex-linked trait – there is certainly more to the story.

Monozygotic “identical” twins are genetically identical, so they should be the same in all ways shouldn’t they?

Why, then, does one twin get early onset Alzheimer’s disease and the other “identical” twin doesn’t? The same is true for height, autism, and cancer. Although, when one twin has a disorder the other is more likely to get the disease also, that is not always the case.

In the January edition of National Geographic, author Peter Miller discusses the newest theories about how genes, environoment and epigenetics affect our life (and the end of it).

Twins offer scientists a unique opportunity to study how genetically identical people differ. Basically, that means scientists can study how things other than genes affect human development and lifespan. Already, scientists have found that a persons height is only 80% determined by genetics because the heights of “identical” twins differ by about .o8 on average. Using IQ tests, scientists have nearly disproved John Locke’s Tabula Rasa or blank slate theory (the idea that children are born with a blank mind that is either stimulated – (and made intelligent) – or not –  (kept unintelligent)). Specifically, scientists studied twins who had been separated at birth and adopted into different families. In this way, scientists have found that intelligence  is about 75% controlled by genetics.

So that leads to the question, what is it besides genes that affects us humans so drastically?

Environment has something to do with our differences. However, that cannot be the whole story. “The Jim Twins” as they are called in the twin science community, were studied in the 1870’s. They were adopted into different families where both boys were named Jim. Then went on to have the same jobs, marry wives of the same name (two Lynda’s first then two Betty’s), enjoy the same hobbies, enjoy the same brand of cigarette and beer, name their sons James Allan and James Alan… the list goes on. These two lived very similar lives, yet they grew up in very different environments. If environment isn’t the only factor in creating difference then what is?

Scientists have recently come to believe that epigenetics plays a significant role in our lives. Epigenetics (site 2) can be seen as the meshing of environment and DNA. In the words of author Peter Miller “If you think of our DNA as an immense piano keyboard and our genes as keys – each key seach key symbolizing a segment of DNA respinsible  for a particulare note or trait, and all the keys combining to make us who we are – then epigenetic prcesses determine when an how each key can be struck changing the tune.”  Environmental changes do have some impact.  When a pregnant mouse is put under stress during the pregnancy it can create changes in the fetus that lead to abnormal behavior as the rodent grows into adulthood.

However, scarily enough, many epigenetic changes appear to occur randomly (thus creating a probelm for the organized nature/nurture theory). Currently work is being done studying DNA methylation, which is known to make the expression of genes weaker or stronger. Specifically, Andrew Feinburg, director of the Center for Epigenetics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is working to find how DNA methylation relates to autism. Currently, he is using scanners and computers to search samples of DNA from autistic twins who have the disease in varying degrees. He is looking to compare how and why

the genes are expressed differently.

In the end, all we know is that there is more to our future than our genes can tell us. Yes, our genes play a huge role in who we are as people – in terms of appearance, character, intelligence and more – but there are some variables that our environment and epigenetics control.

Main Article: Miller, Peter. “A Thing or Two About Twins.” National Geographic. Jan 2012: 38-65. Print.

Wait, Babies can be Born Without Eyes?

This picture displays a baby with healthy eyes!

This photo was found on blogs.smarter.com through Google Advanced Search

I always knew individuals could lose eyes if a terrible accident occurs, but I never knew that babies can be born without eyes! Did you?

Recently, a condition called anophthalmia has been discovered. It is when there are complications with the development
of both copies of the STRA6 gene, one that is “responsible for transporting vitamin A into the cells.” In fact, vitamin A is needed for the development of every inch of our retina, a tissue lining the inside of the eye. In less scientific terms, anopthalmia is when an individual is born with the loss of one or both eyes. Microphthalmia, a condition where an individual has small eyes, and coloboma, which is a deformed eye, are two other eye conditions that develop in a baby while he or she is still in the womb. These three diseases make up eleven percent of all eye deformations. However, the Micro & Anophthalmic Children’s Society UK reported that microphthalmia and coloboma are much more common than anopthalmia.

Doctors like Dr. Sean Ennis from the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science, University College Dublin, and the National Centre for Medical Research started researching the perplexing idea that babies can be born without eyes with “nine individuals from across several generations of an Irish ethnic minority family of nomadic descent who suffer with one or more of the three eye defects to varying degrees of severity.”
Dr. Ennis says,

 

“Using advanced gene sequencing technologies, we firstly scanned for regions of DNA shared by all patients before analysing a single common region for the disease gene. From this we pinpointed STRA6, a gene responsible for transporting vitamin A into cells.

 

In the past, doctors have found that alterations and complications of the STRA6 gene in DNA can cause Matthew-Wood syndrome. This is a disease that can cause irregular eye formation and hardships for development in general.
Scientists of the University College Dublin, Ireland, in addition to doctors such as Dr. Hui Sun and Dr. Riki Kawaguchi of the University of California, actually made this fascinating discovery recently. Now, they are attempting to make genetic testing to determine whether a baby in a mother’s womb will have anopthalmia early on. They would really like to develop a clinical practice, which would take place at the National Centre for Medical Genetics (NCMG) in Dublin. Professor Andrew Green of University College Dublin says,

“Accurate carrier testing and genetic counselling can be offered to those individuals planning to have children. And ultimately, this work may be used to develop preventive measures or possible treatments in the future,”

As of right now, babies born with small eyes, deformed eyes, or no eyes must get prosthetic eyes to help them see and help the development of other parts of their bodies, including the face and skull. Eye defects can also be associated with birth defects and deformations in the heart, lungs, and diaphragm. We must hope for progress in the research and clinical trials for anophthalmia, so that the malformation and lack of eye disorder disappears forever one day!

Could there be another reason?

From Chris Berwick's blog- White blood cells amongst red blood cells

Leukemia has always been a tough form of cancer to combat. It is the leading cancer found in children and can also be found in adults. Leukemia “is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow (which produces blood cells). A person who has leukemia suffers from an abnormal production of blood cells, generally leukocytes (white blood cells).”

In this specific case, long island doctor Steven Allen had a patient with cell leukemia. Cell leukemia is a rare form of leukemia and usually has fatal results within 6 months. Recently Dr. Allen’s patient died after just three months after she was diagnosed.

Cell leukemia is rarely treatable because most patients have a genetic mutation in a gene called KIT. This gene refutes any type of drug that is typically used on patients with leukemia. The phenomenon about Dr. Allen’s patient in particular case is that she did not have this genetic mutation on KIT, but her body still would not accept any drug, which resulted in her early death.

With her death came two discoveries that were ground breaking in the cure for leukemia. Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have found two other gene mutations that refute the other drugs that have recently been studied as a cure for people with mast cell leukemia with a mutation on the gene KIT.

While Dr. Allen remains confident that this is going to change the direction of cures for leukemia, his colleague said “We must reallykeep in mind this was a single case study and we have to follow it up with many other studies.” These studies will help  “prove the mutations are present in other patients.”

What still confuses me is: if these mutations are the cause of mast cell leukemia, are there other mutations we have not yet discovered in all other forms of  cancer. If this be the case how do we know that the drugs we are using are not just a waste of time. Maybe it would be better for doctors to understand all gene mutations leading to each persons specific type of cancer before rushing into one form of treatment that has worked on others. Besides aren’t all humans different?

photo credit: angleys82

Sources: http://www.newsday.com/news/health/li-researchers-make-leukemia-discovery-1.3400035

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/142595.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CD117

Monkey Be, Monkey Do

Are you one of those people who has always wondered about scientist’s progress in creating genetically amalgamated Monkeys? Well, if the answer is yes, then you need wonder no more, because Scientists have recently created their very own combinations of primate genes known as Chimeric Monkeys through the extensive study of stem cells and embryonic tissue.

The term Chimeric Monkey, stemming from the Greek Chimera, essentially describes the scientists efforts of combining various monkey genes in a prospective embryo, and empregnating a mother with said genes to direct what the eventual monkey child will develop into based on its new genes. It should be noted also that experiments with chimeric mice have also been a great asset in this venture, as they have provided certain genes which serve as “knock out” genes for  ones that the scientists wish to delete when creating the new monkey genome.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University has been one of the primary figures in researching this new breakthrough chimeric studies saying that “The possibilities for science are enormous.” The basic procedure for creating the Chimeric monkeys entails the initial mixing of embryonic cells very early in their development that are classified as totipotent, or still having the capability of creating an entire animal with placenta, and other life sustaining tissues. Mitalipov has stated that “The cells never fuse, but they stay together and work together to form tissues and organs”.

So what do you all think? Is this all really a huge breakthrough in genetic science, or perhaps going a bit too far in what we were meant to manipulate?

Oh, and by the way, Mitalipov emphasized that there is no need or plans for chimeric humans,  just in case you were wondering

Tasting Colors?!

Credit: Carly Bodnar

Last year while doing a practice SAT reading section, I came across a story about a condition called synesthesia. If you have never heard of it before, you’re not alone. Synesthesia is a very rare, sense-mixing condition in which people taste colors or see smells. Sounds crazy, right? According to studies, 3% of the world population claim that they experience some form of synesthesia. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t understand how people could taste and see intangible things.

A recent study shows that there is a pattern among people who have the condition that close family members have similarly entangled senses. Scientists have examined several genes to see which ones contribute to the phenomenon. Scientists hope that the uncovering of the condition’s genetic basis might reveal why it occurs and potentially help develop cures for similar neurological diseases.

The study, led by neuroscientist David Eagleman, studied a region of chromosome 16, the chromosome believed to hold the gene responsible for synesthesia. Eagleman and his colleagues believe that a defect in this gene may blend connections in the brain, leading to insufficient regulation of the brain’s neural bridges. David Brang from the University of California, San Diego explains, “It could be that everyone is born with global connectivity in the brain, and over time most undergo a refining process.” Another theory proposes that synesthesia is caused by a shift in the brain’s balance of chemicals. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that people can have synesthetic experiences if they take hallucinogens.

Eagleman believes that the continued study of synesthesia could more clearly illustrate how genetic changes affect changes in brain function. Finding more information about synesthesia can help uncover how different brain areas interact with each other. The discovery of neurological networking problems could also help find cures for or advancements in other degenerative neurological and genetic diseases. So for those of you who didn’t believe that such a condition existed, it does! Keep in mind, though, that these types of diseases often have genetic origins, another reason why there is not that much information on these obscure diseases. However, at a time when advancements and discoveries in genetics are so prevalent, Eagleman is confident that more information about this condition will be uncovered soon. Remember, next time you are doing a SAT reading section, don’t forget about the information given in those stories, they could give you insight into potential scientific discoveries!

I Got it From My Mama . . . and My Papa

Photo Credit: By Me

Ever wonder why Justin Timberlake could belt it out or how come Usain Bolt is so fast? Well the answer’s pretty unexpected, but not too surprising: genetics. Now while genetic prowess is not the sole key to these superstars’ successes, recent studies have shown that certain genes are attributed to superior athletic performance and feel of rhythm.

Recent studies have show that babies are born something called beat induction, the ability to follow a beat. Prior to this study, it was thought that basic music skills like rhythm were solely learned or an offshoot of language. However, scientists were able to study two and three-day-old babies’ reactions to changes in rhythms and they found that babies brains experienced  a momentary disturbance, known as a mismatch negativity (caused by the failure of an expected stimuli to occur), when the beat changed. It was impossible that the newborns could have learned beat induction in a few days, so it was obvious that it is an ability passed down genetically. Beat induction is a relatively new genetic trait , one only found in humans; even our closest primate relatives do not have this skill. It is even thought that beat induction may have been an adaptation gained to help humans with conversational communication.

Geneticists have been doing more and more groundbreaking research about the connection between inherited traits that may cause offspring to be more athletic or suited for competition at a higher level. For example, in 2003 Australian geneticists identified a gene called Actinen A (ACTN3), which codes for a protein that helps build fast-twitching muscles and muscle fibers that move with greater force, thus speeding up leg movement. The more fast twitching muscles an athlete has, the better they are at burst energy sports like sprinting, football, and baseball. Recent reports show that 70% of Jamaicans have the ACTN3 gene, which could explain Jamaican sprinters like Usain Bolt’s success at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Similarly, Olympic swimming champion, Michael Phelps, may have also inherited advantages for movement in the water. Phelps has many characteristics commonly attributed to Marfan Syndrome. Marfan Syndrom is a connective tissue disorder that strengthens the body’s structures and could possibly explain how Phelps swims faster than any other human being. Researchers are also currently studying the gene which codes for slow-twitch muscle fibers that are advantageous for endurance sports. By identifying these genetically inherited advantages could radically change athletic competition, allowing athletes to create specific training regiments beneficial to their unique genetic composition.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So research tells us that both beat induction (musical rhythm)  and athletic prowess can be inherited, but the question is how crucial are these inherited traits to success in a given field? What other factors like environment, mentality, mental endurance, or determination play into the molding of a virtuoso or olympian? What really makes a superstar a superstar?

 

For more:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/01/babybeats/

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/08/jamaican-sprint/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%253A+wiredscience+%2528Blog+-+Wired+Science%2529

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/12/a-gene-test-of/

http://sports.yahoo.com/top/news?slug=ycn-10259115

http://www.genetic-future.com/2008/08/gene-for-jamaican-sprinting-success-no.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110718121555.htm

Class Fox?

 

Photo Credit: Flickr user- Arudhio

As a kid visiting a zoo did you ever wonder what it would be like to pet the tigers?  Well as you know wild animals are dangerous and they aren’t meant to be tamed, patted or touched… or are they?  According to new studies domestication may not be a learned trait or a trait only found in our dogs, cats, birds and livestock, but a gene that can be bred into wild animals through selective breeding.

In Russia dating back to Stalin’s rule scientists began to wonder if they could breed domestication into a population of animals.   They decided to run their experiment, despite the risk of death because of the government’s aversion to studies on genetics, and started out by heading to fur farms and selecting the calmest foxes who showed the least amount of aggression toward humans.  They began to breed these friendlier foxes and with each generation they began to get friendlier and friendlier foxes to breed.  Today the foxes react to people much like a dog would; they start jumping at the front of their crates and wining for attention and will leap into your arms at the first chance they get.  In fact these foxes even resist going back into their cages because they hate to leave human attention that they love so much.

So how do we know that it’s genetic rather than behavior changes in these foxes?  The scientists thought of this and they kept a control population, for this population they continually bred the most aggressive foxes and got highly aggressive animals that hated human presence.  To test out their theory that this was in fact genetic these scientists took one of the pups bred to be aggressive and gave it to one of the friendly mothers, despite being raised by a mother that loved people this fox remained aggressive to people, as it was bred to do.

Another reason that they are confident that this is genetic is that the foxes physical appearance began to change, they started to look more puppy like for longer, their ears stayed floppy longer, they developed white specs on their coats and their tails curled, all of these traits are typically seen as traits that humans like and that would make the foxes more dog like and more appealing to people.

It may seem hard to believe that a wild animal can be tamed simply through breeding but the reporter of the original article fell so in love with these foxes she now has two sharing her home with her, and her golden retriever.  The scientists and now working to get permits that would allow them to sell some of the friendly foxes as pets (to help fund their research), which leads to the question if we are given the chance to buy them would you ever own a Pet Fox?

 

 

Are Canadians Genetically Superior?

Photo by Anirudh Koul Flickr

I mean they do have Ryan Reynolds,  Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Ellen Paige, that tall guy from Glee, and Beiber. Well, maybe Bieber doesn’t isn’t a testiment to Canadian superiority, but recent studies have found certain signs of rapid genetic changes among the recent residents of a small Canadian town,  Ile aux Coudres, in the last 140 years. These changes include the average age of first maternity dropping from 26 to 22, resulting in larger families which are advantageous in rural areas.

Now while some may argue that this is merely an effect of the rural culture, anthropologist and geneticist, Emmanuel Milot says “Culture shapes the selection pressures acting on the age at first birth and the reproductive history of women in this population [therefore,] the cultural context was favoring the selection of some genes.” With the help of the Catholic Church’s detailed record keeping, Milot and his team were able to identify this trend as one attributed to genetic rather than environmental changes.

This study supports the school of thought that humans are still evolving and examines microevolution over the course of just a few generations.  Other studies show that certain human populations in different regions are evolving differently still today. A classic example of this regional evolution is the Mongoloid Race‘s decreased amount of sweat glands and small eyes. These are regional adaptations meant to be advantageous against the cold, snowy environment in which they live. Less sweat glands means more water conserved and less sweat released in order to avoid having it freeze on their skin, thus avoiding dehydration and hypothermia. Smaller eyes are beneficial because they help keep the sun’s glare from the snow at a minimum. These are all examples of ancient regional evolutions, similar to the current day changes occurring in some small Canadian villages.

It is definitely exciting to think that we are still evolving and adapting to our environment. It is a testament to the human race’s ability to change and adapt which has led us as far as we are today. Have you noticed any recent changes in your region’s population? Do you see any growing genetic trends in today’s youth?

 

For More:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/03/genetic-signatures-of-recent-human-evolution-continued/

http://news.softpedia.com/news/9-Things-You-Did-not-Know-About-Chinese-and-Mongoloid-Race-66420.shtml

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/10/recent-human-evolution/

http://www.human-evol.cam.ac.uk/Members/Lahr/pubs/YPA-98-41.pdf