Tag: genetics

Secret meeting mulls creating plastic humans

1431613943_valeriya-lukyanova-467More than a hundred scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs gathered in secret to discuss the radical possibility of creating a synthetic human genome.

According to the New York Times attendees were told to keep a tight lip about what took place, but someone must have dropped a hint to the press.  Synthetic human genome is a big step up from gene editing – it uses chemicals to manufacture all the DNA contained in human chromosomes. It relies on the custom-designed base pair series and geneticists wouldn’t be bound by the two base pairs produced by nature.

They could, in theory build microbes, animals and humans. So a company could build the right human for the job.

Obviously this is ethically a minefield and the world of science appears to have not really got the hang of how to succeed in getting the public on its side.  It seems to think that if there is a public debate, then religious nutjobs will lean on politicians who will put the lid on the whole thing. However keeping the meeting secret though has created an internet conspiracy stir and reports of the meeting appear to be getting out of hand.

George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard medical school and a key organizer of the proposed project said that the meeting wasn’t really about synthetic human genomes, but rather it was about efforts to improve the ability to synthesize long strands of DNA, which geneticists could use to create all manner of animals, plants and microbes.

Yet the original name of the project was “HGP2: The Human Genome Synthesis Project”. What’s more, an invitation to the meeting clearly stated that the primary goal would be “to synthesise a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of ten years”.

Church said the meeting was secret because his team has submitted a paper to a scientific journal, and they’re not supposed to discuss the idea publicly before publication.

Church does want to build a complete human genome in a cell line within ten years. So far scientists have synthesized a simple bacterial cell.

Humans are a pig chimp hybrid

A top genetics expert claims that he has found evidence that modern humans were caused by pigs and chimps mating.

Geneticist Eugene McCarthy is probably the greatest expert on hybrid animals in the world and his discovery explains an awful lot of what we have seen at channel sales conferences.

In his paper, McCarthy said that there are shedloads of inexplicable similarities in the anatomy of pigs and humans, and again inexplicable differences between humans and other primates.

He made a long list of anatomic evidence  but what we picked up from our boarish forefathers were  similarities in the microstructure of the skin and organs.

We are not sure how it was possible before the invention of alcohol and cheesy nightclubs how a love match between a chimp and a pig could come about.

According to InSerbia,   McCarthy suggests that humanity was probably created after numerous cases of mating of boars with female chimpanzees, when the cubs were raised by chimpanzees. It must have been tough on the piglet.  After all, they could not climb trees or fling their poo like their adopted brothers.

McCarthy also says that there are two possibilities when it comes to this type of hybridisation. The first is that the hybridisation happened several million years ago, and that it resulted by creating the first hominids hordes, and that later from the horde all hominid groups formed. The second is that the special cases of mating between chimpanzees and pigs produced two separate species of hominid, and that this is possible in places where pigs and chimpanzees meet each other, like in South Sudan.

Apparently, humans are not the only ape to go for someone a bit porky. McCarthy thinks that gorillas were created by crossing chimpanzees and forest pigs, which would explain many well-known concerns about the fertility of a gorilla.

Researchers build bio-computer

Israeli scientists have built a computer using only biomolecules such as DNA and enzymes.

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have created an advanced biological transducer.

The machine can manipulate genetic codes, and use the output as new input for subsequent computations. The idea is that it will be used in gene therapy and cloning.

Biomolecular computing devices could be crucial to developing computers that can interact directly with biological systems and even living organisms.

We would have thought that the downside was the lack of a decent QWERTY keyboard but the researchers are quite excited by the fact that no interface is required.

According to  Science Daily, all components of molecular computers, including hardware, software, input and output, are molecules that interact in solution along a cascade of programmable chemical events.

Ehud Keinan of the Technion Schulich Faculty of Chemistry said that the early results show a novel, synthetic designed computing machine that computes iteratively and produces biologically relevant results,

In addition to enhanced computation power, this DNA-based transducer offers multiple benefits, including the ability to read and transform genetic information, miniaturisation to the molecular scale, and the aptitude to produce computational results that interact directly with living organisms.

This particular transducer is designed to be used on genetic material to evaluate and detect specific sequences, and to alter and algorithmically process genetic code. Similar devices could be applied for other computational problems.

It is probably only a matter of time before you can increase your computer power by sneezing on your PC. 

Your genetic make up to be stored, without consent, for profit

Dr Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, warned at a MedConfidential event in London that, beyond electronically storing patient records, the next step for the UK is linking these records with DNA and genetic information on an all-in-one database.

It is already public policy, she pointed out, and a Human Genomics Strategy Group (HGSG) urged the need for a national DNA database for personalised medicine last year. This was welcomed by the secretary of state for health, which has asked for the recommendations to be implemented.

Genetic data is massively revealing. It can be used to identify relatives as well as the patient, and can be used to assess the potential for passing recessive genetic disorders on to children. 

Anonymisation here, Wallace argued, is impossible. For example, it would be possible to swab DNA from a coffee cup and compare this to your sequence, also linked to your medical record, stored in a research database. The HGSG plan threatens to remove people’s right to know exactly who is using their genomic data and why – as required by the Helsinki Declaration – and the building of a biometric database without consent, which will allow for tracking and categorisation of all individuals and those individual’s relatives. This data is mostly not relevant to patient care, and could lead to stopping screening criteria in favour of individual feedback of personalised risk predictions, Wallace said, as well as marketing.

Ultimately, this means the entire population could unwittingly become a profit-making market for genome sequencing without presenting direct benefits to the people whose DNA is being collected, including babies and children, sequenced without their consent. This will lead to investors cashing in and intermediaries, such as Google, building risk algorithms for profit and personalised marketing – indeed, Google’s Sergey Brin is involved in the gene testing company 23andMe.  

Chiefly leading the charge are Sir Mark Walport, former head of the Wellcome Trust, professor Sir John Bell of Wellcome/Oxford and HGSG, Sir Richard Sykes, former chair of GlaxoSmithKline, and Sir Paul Nurse, head of the Francis Crick institute and the Royal Society.

Supporters of ‘Public Health Genomics’, Wallace argued, said that they think data mining and storing genomes is necessary for the public health – but this itself undermines article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to privacy. It is also disputed just how effective genetic variants are as predictors of common diseases.

This is all despite there never having been a public consultation on the plan, or an assessment of costs and benefits – while there is significant commercial interest in further opening up healthcare to the markets, or insurers. Others set to profit would be hardware, software, and infrastructure providers such as Microsoft and IBM, genotyping companies like Life Technologies, VC investors, and universities who can gain research and development tax credits and matched infrastructure funding. 

Further implications, according to Wallace, include a shifting away from public health controls on products or health inequalities in favour of personalised marketing. It also threatens a de-skilling in the NHS, opening up the floodgates to commercial control over diagnosis and prognosis. Personalised risk assessments themselves will be used to tout products and other medications.

Just seven percent of people who were approached to opt in to the UK Biobank agreed. Wallace asks: should the 93 percent be presumed to have given their consent unless they actively refuse? Although the public is largely supportive of research, they want their total consent – and by-stepping this could damage public trust in legitimate medical research.

With the above considered, Wallace says that data sharing plans for electronic medical records are a step towards sharing genomes and genotypes – and ultimately building a DNA database of the whole population “by stealth” in the NHS.

Tel Aviv scientists develop microRNA software

Researchers at the Tel Aviv University in Israel have developed software to analyse microRNAs, the cellular molecules that regulate our genetic code, giving us potentially invaluable insight into how genes affect our lives and how we can better combat genetic disease.

Roy Ronen and a team of scientists led by Dr. Noam Shomrom at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine in Tel Aviv University developed the software, called miRNAkey. The program searches for microRNA patterns in healthy and diseased tissues, granting the scientists a deeper understanding of how we work and what differentiates, on the genetic level, health from disease.

The model of analysis employed in this research is called “deep sequencing”, which is used to determine the sequence and expression of cellular DNA or RNA. The ability to gather and analyse this data, which effectively amounts to a full map of the human body on a microscopic level, has very positive benefits to our race as a whole, as it allows biologists more insight into our genetics and how genetic malfunctions, or disease, can occur.

The miRNAkey software is the first of its kind, combining the methods scientists have developed to analyse microRNAs with the computational and analytical power of computers, potentially multiplying the volume of our results and the pace at which we can get them.

Dr. Shomron explained that identification of microRNAs allows scientists to manipulate them, giving an example of potentially manipulation malignant tumours. Previous research among the team has showed that manipulation of the microRNAs in maligant cancer resulted in a significant slowdown in the growth of the tumour. While studies are still in their early stages, this software is an essential aspect of further research into the abolishment of disease. 

The software is detailed in depth in the latest issue of science journal Bioinformatics.

Aberdeen farms old Scots for genetics study

Scotland’s University of Aberdeen is busy farming ancient Aberdonians for the latest phase in a genetic study, it has announced. In total, the study aims to sign up 50,000 Scots born in the fifties to have their health tracked. 

The idea is that stuff like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness and strokes aren’t just a result of being born in The Icy North, rather they run in families. So Aberdeen University is helping out on building up a database for the Scottish Family Health Study (SFHS), part of the Generation Scotland genetics research partnership between the NHS and genetics boffins.

Medical Research Council lackeys surveyed all primary school children aged seven to 12 in Aberdeen back in 1962. Now, those originally surveyed are being sent letters with the hope of providing insight into a range of health conditions and how they may or may not be passed down through generations. Officially, the SFHS will be creating a Scottish “biobank” which will be full of genetic, medical, family history and lifestyle information to help researchers investigate genetic and environmental factors to common diseases.

Blair Smith, professor of primary care medicine at the University of Aberdeen, reckons that the SFHS is a “tremendously important study”. He said: “We know that many diseases such as cancer, heart disease, mental illness and diabetes run in families and that tells us that genes are important. But we don’t know yet which genes are important or how they relate to other things such as lifestyle. 

“We can get more information about genes by studying DNA which carries the genetic blueprint handed down through the generations. That is why we are collecting and analysing blood samples and health information from thousands of families across Scotland. All the data gathered will help future research into the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of many illnesses.”

Recruitment for the study began back in Glasgow and Tayside in 2006, an area not far off from where life expectancy is lower than in Iraq.  

Editor in Chief Mike Magee has just missed out on being elligible for the study, which is a shame as his complex egosystem of tobacco, whisky and his strict “No Neeps” policy would be sure to baffle boffins.