Posts Tagged ‘whole genome sequencing’

Raising the Neanderthals: scientism and playing God

 

February 26, 2013 (Breakpoint.org) – In 1856, workers at a German quarry found some bones in a cave. They took the bones to a local teacher, Johan Karl Fuhlrott.

To Fuhlrott, while the bones appeared human, they were unlike those of any living European. Eventually, scientists concluded that the bones belong to an extinct species of hominid which they named after the place where the bones were found: the Neander River Valley, or Neanderthal in German.

Paleontologists estimate that Homo neanderthalensis were extinct no later than 25,000 years ago. Yet if one scientist has his way, Neanderthals could make a comeback.

George Church is a molecular geneticist who teaches at both Harvard and MIT. He recently made headlines when he told the German magazine Der Spiegel that it’s possible that he could see the birth of a Neanderthal baby within his lifetime.

After all, we’ve already sequenced an entire Neanderthal genome. Advances in the field of synthetic biology have made it possible to “read gene sequences into computers . . . alter them and then print a modified gene into living cells.”

All that’s missing is an “extremely adventurous female human” and perfecting human cloning, which Church views as “very likely,” technologically-speaking.

This begs the question of why we would want to bring back the Neanderthals in the first place. After all, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Jurassic Park,” Neanderthals had their shot, and they blew it.

Church’s argument for reversing their extinction is that “Neanderthals might think differently than we do.” This difference, coupled with their larger cranial size, might make them handy to have around “when the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet or whatever.”

 

If that sounds less than persuasive, it’s because those aren’t reasons, but rationalizations. Resurrecting the Neanderthal is a small part of a larger project that includes changing the human genome, and in the process, changing what we mean by the word “species.”

Reading the interview in Der Spiegel, what came to mind was a cross between Jurassic Park and the Island of Doctor Moreau. And like the protagonists of Crichton’s and Wells’ novels, Church seems fairly certain about the rightness of what he is proposing, and his and other scientists’ ability to pull it off.

Thus the German interviewer was on the mark when he told Church, “First you propose to change the 3-billion-year-old genetic code. Then you explain how you want to create a new and better man. Is it any wonder to you when people accuse you of playing God?”

Speaking of God, when asked about his religious beliefs, the ironically-named Church replied “I have faith that science is a good thing.”

Of course, science can be a good thing — the issue is whether science alone can decide what ought and ought not to be done. Not even the best-intentioned scientists know what constitutes “a new and better man.”

What’s on display here, folks, is scientism, which posits that science alone can “yield true knowledge about man and society.” If Neanderthals make a comeback — Church understates the difficulty of such an endeavor — it will happen because we can, not because we should.

It will be the result of “extremely adventurous” scientists deciding that they know what’s best. After all, science is a good thing and they are scientists, right?

Reprinted with permission from Breakpoint.org.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - March 5, 2013 at 4:55 pm

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Leading Geneticist: Human Intelligence is Slowly Declining

intelligence 265x165 Leading Geneticist: Human Intelligence is Slowly Declining

Would you be surprised to hear that the human race is slowly becoming dumber, and dumber? Despite our advancements over the last tens or even hundreds of years, some ‘experts’ believe that humans are losing cognitive capabilities and becoming more emotionally unstable. One Stanford University researcher and geneticist, Dr. Gerald Crabtree, believes that our intellectual decline as a race has much to do with adverse genetic mutations. But human intelligence is suffering for other reasons as well.

According to Crabtree, our cognitive and emotional capabilities are fueled and determined by the combined effort of thousands of genes. If a mutation occurred in any of of these genes, which is quite likely, then intelligence or emotional stability can be negatively impacted.

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Previously unknown human population boom revealed by DNA: Massive expansion occurred 40,000 years ago

  • Scientists guess that baby boom occurred as our ancestors adapted to life away from the coasts

By Damien Gayle

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DNA sequencing has revealed a previously unknown human population boom between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, a new study claims.

The sequencing of the Y chromosomes from 36 men has revealed a ten-fold increase in the number of genetic markers nearly 20,000 years after our ancestors first left Africa.

Scientists believe the expansion could have occurred as our ancestors adapted to more rugged environments, allowing them to spread inland from coastal areas.

Baby boom: New analysis of DNA has revealed a previously unknown human population boom between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago

Baby boom: New analysis of DNA has revealed a previously unknown human population explosion between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago

‘We have always considered the expansion of humans out of Africa as being the largest population expansion of modern humans, but our research questions this theory,’ said Wei Wei of the West China University of Medical Sciences.

‘The out-of-Africa expansion, which happened approximately 60,000 years ago, was extremely large in geographical terms with humans spreading around the globe.

‘Now we’ve found a second wave of expansion that is much larger in terms of human population growth and occurred over a very short period, somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.’

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1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - February 19, 2013 at 1:18 am

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Colorado Researchers Say DNA Proves Bigfoot Is Real

Bigfoot is real. That’s according to a group of Colorado researchers who say they have hard evidence proving its existence.

Researcher Dave Paulides is convinced the reality of Bigfoot isn’t as fuzzy as the photos from people who claim to have seen the mythological creature.

 

“This DNA is like nothing else in the world,” Paulides said.

 

Paulides says Bigfoot looks approximately 7 to 8 feet tall and weighs in at a whopping 800 to 1,000 pounds.

 

“It’s easy to say a lot of things are crazy. If you lived underground your whole life, the belief that 400 people could fly in a plane would sound crazy,” Paulides said.

Paulides says his research group has collected hundreds of samples of DNA evidence. He focused his search in Northern California’s redwoods. He says strands of hair are from a Sasquatch, genetically tested to reveal a previously unknown species.

“This isn’t an animal. This is a subspecies of a human, and we believe they travel in groups,” Paulides said.

 

Not a single research institution in the country has confirmed the DNA test results, but Paulides says there are thousands of sightings a year, from California to Tennessee, including dozens in Colorado.

 

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not currently list ‘Sasquatch,’ ‘Yeti,’ ‘Bigfoot,’ ‘The Abominable Snowman,’ or ‘Harry’ (of ‘Harry and the Hendersons’) as any of the more than 900 diverse species that are native to Colorado,” the organization said in a statement.

 

“I think that the government probably is aware of the subject, but it’s difficult to give acknowledgement to something that they obviously can’t control,” Paulides said.

 

Paulides says he’s surprised more people haven’t seen Bigfoot. He believes there could be as many as 50,000 in the wilderness.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - February 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm

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Neanderthal Baby Momma Ad Denied

Yesterday, DNews ran the article, Surrogate Mother Wanted for Neanderthal Baby. In it, we told you that Harvard professor of genetics, George Church, proposed finding an “extremely adventurous female human” to serve as a surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby. Since that article ran, Church has come out saying that’s not what he meant, exactly. He blames the misinterpretation on the poor translation of an interview with him that appeared in the German magazine, Der Spiegel.

“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church told the Boston Herald. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”

ANALYSIS: It’s Alive! Artificial Life Springs from Manmade DNA

A paragraph from his book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves,” clarifies his idea. Church explains that genetic engineering gives researchers a way to start with an intact genome of an animal and change it to the genome of another animal. You could start with an elephant’s genome, for example, and change it into that of a mammoth’s.

“The same technique would work for the Neanderthal,” he writes, “except that you’d start with a stem cell genome from a human adult and gradually reverseengineer it into the Neanderthal genome or a reasonably close equivalent. These stem cells can produce tissues and organs. If society becomes comfortable with cloning and sees value in true human diversity, then the whole Neanderthal creature itself could be cloned by a surrogate mother chimp or an extremely adventurous female human.”

And then today on a radio interview with WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook, Church explained it more. Ashbrook also interviewed Arthur Caplan, head of the division of bioethics at New York University and Jay Keasling, director of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.

Tom asks, What would the potential benefit be?

“It’s very hard to anticipate what the benefits are of the Apollo Moon shot are, for example. We didn’t precisely describe GPS navigation in the streets,” Church says.

“We may be limited, chauvinistic in the way we think about things,” he says.

“Sometimes we want to have alien intelligences to discuss things with and sometimes we don’t. It’s an open question. It depends on safety to the individuals.”

Tom asks, But didn’t Neanderthals go extinct for a reason?

Church makes the point that yes, they did extinct for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean they were week or unintelligent and it also doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.

You can listen to the full interview: Is Creating New Life — Maybe Even A Neanderthal — Possible?

Credit: Lonely Planet

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - February 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm

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DNA map offers hope on cancer treatments

Cancer will become a manageable disease rather than a death sentence thanks to a revolutionary treatment which will be available within five years, British specialists predict.Out of control: biologists still cannot explain why cancerous cells will proliferate and spread to other organs if unchecked

All patients will soon have their tumour’s DNA, its genetic code, sequenced, enabling doctors to ensure they give exactly the right drugs to keep the disease at bay.

Doctors hope it will be an important step towards transforming some types of cancer into a chronic rather than fatal disease.

The technique could enable terminally ill patients, who can currently expect to live only months, to carry on for a decade or more in relatively good health, according to specialists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

“We should be aspiring to cure cancer, but for people with advanced disease, it will be a question of managing them better so they survive for much longer – for many years,” said Prof Alan Ashworth, chief executive of the institute.

“Cancer often appears in people who are old, and if we can keep them alive long enough for them to die of something else, then we are turning cancer into a chronic disease.”

Prof Ashworth said that understanding of how different cancers were caused by different genetic triggers was building “incredibly rapidly”.

Genetic profiling of tumours is already used to some extent, but current methods only look for a few genes. Women with advanced breast cancer are tested to see if their tumours have a particular variant of the HER2 gene, which causes a fifth of cases. Those with it are given Herceptin, but the same drug would do no good for those without the gene variant.

Advanced melanoma patients with a particular gene mutation are prescribed Vemurafenib, a pill that has been shown to increase survival, on average, from 9.6 to 13.2 months, and help patients feel much more energetic.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - January 28, 2013 at 11:41 pm

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It’s Alive! Artificial Life Springs From Manmade DNA

ANALYSIS: It’s Alive! Artificial Life Springs from Manmade DNA

A paragraph from his book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves,” clarifies his idea. Church explains that genetic engineering gives researchers a way to start with an intact genome of an animal and change it to the genome of another animal. You could start with an elephant’s genome, for example, and change it into that of a mammoth’s.

“The same technique would work for the Neanderthal,” he writes, “except that you’d start with a stem cell genome from a human adult and gradually reverseengineer it into the Neanderthal genome or a reasonably close equivalent. These stem cells can produce tissues and organs. If society becomes comfortable with cloning and sees value in true human diversity, then the whole Neanderthal creature itself could be cloned by a surrogate mother chimp or an extremely adventurous female human.”

And then today on a radio interview with WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook, Church explained it more. Ashbrook also interviewed Arthur Caplan, head of the division of bioethics at New York University and Jay Keasling, director of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.

Tom asks, What would the potential benefit be?

“It’s very hard to anticipate what the benefits are of the Apollo Moon shot are, for example. We didn’t precisely describe GPS navigation in the streets,” Church says.

“We may be limited, chauvinistic in the way we think about things,” he says.

“Sometimes we want to have alien intelligences to discuss things with and sometimes we don’t. It’s an open question. It depends on safety to the individuals.”

Tom asks, But didn’t Neanderthals go extinct for a reason?

Church makes the point that yes, they did extinct for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean they were week or unintelligent and it also doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.

You can listen to the full interview: Is Creating New Life — Maybe Even A Neanderthal — Possible?

Credit: Lonely Planet

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - January 26, 2013 at 5:24 pm

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Could a Surrogate Mother Deliver a Neanderthal Baby?

In a controversial interview that has ignited commentary across the world, a respected Harvard professor of genetics has suggested an “extremely adventurous female human” might someday serve as surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby.

Besides saying that the cloning of a live Neanderthal baby would be possible in our lifetime, George Church told Der Spiegel magazine that using stem cells to create a Neanderthal could have significant benefits to society. “The first thing you have to do is to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and that has actually been done,” Church said.

“The next step would be to chop this genome up into, say, 10,000 chunks and then … assemble all the chunks in a human stem cell, which would enable you to finally create a Neanderthal clone,” Church told Der Spiegel.

Scientists completed the first sequence of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, finding genetic evidence suggesting ancestors of modern humans successfully interbred with Neanderthals, at least occasionally. More recent research has suggested Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 percent to 4 percent of the genomes of modern Eurasians. [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]

The benefits, according to Church, include an increase in genetic diversity. “The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity,” Church said. “If you become a monoculture, you are at great risk of perishing. Therefore the recreation of Neanderthals would be mainly a question of societal risk avoidance.”

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2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - January 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm

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‘Adventurous’ Woman Needed as Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby

'Adventurous' Woman Needed as Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby

‘Adventurous’ Woman Needed as Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby

Are you an adventurous human woman? Adventurous enough to be a surrogate mother for the first Neanderthal baby to be born in 30,000 years?

Harvard geneticist George Church recently told Der Spiegel he’s close to developing the necessary technology to clone a Neanderthal, at which point all he’d need is an “adventurous human woman” — einen abenteuerlustigen weiblichen Menschen — to act as a surrogate mother.

It’s not out of the question at all. As MIT Technology Review‘s Susan Young points out, scientists cloned an extinct subspecies of ibex in 2009. It died immediately, sure. But they still cloned it.

What would that entail? According to a 2008 study of a Neanderthal infant skeleton (from which the above image is taken), “the head of the Neanderthal newborn was somewhat longer than that of a human newborn because of its relatively robust face,” and Neanderthal women generally had a wider birth canal than human women. Neanderthal birth was simpler than human birth, because Neanderthal infants didn’t have to rotate to get to the birth canal, but otherwise the processes were very similar. (Even so, I imagine all but the most adventurous of human women would opt for a C-section in this case.)

Once the baby’s out, though, you’re in good shape — Neanderthal babies are thought to have grown much more quickly than their human counterparts. And Church seems to think that there’ll be a Neanderthal craze, as he told Bloomberg Businessweek last year:

“We have lots of Neanderthal parts around the lab. We are creating Neanderthal cells. Let’s say someone has a healthy, normal Neanderthal baby. Well, then, everyone will want to have a Neanderthal kid. Were they superstrong or supersmart? Who knows? But there’s one way to find out.”

[Der Spiegel via MIT Technology Review]

44 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - January 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm

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The Human Genome and how it works

 

A colossal international effort has yielded the first comprehensive look at how our DNA works, an encyclopedia of information that will rewrite the textbooks and offer new insights into the biology of disease. For one thing, it may help explain why some people are more prone to common ailments such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

 

The findings, reported Wednesday by more than 500 scientists, reveal extraordinarily complex networks that tell our genes what to do and when, with millions of on-off switches. “It’s this incredible choreography going on, of a modest number of genes and an immense number of … switches that are choreographing how those genes are used,” said Dr. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which organized the project.

The work also shows that at least 80 percent of the human genetic code, or genome, is active. That’s surprisingly high and a sharp contrast to the idea that the vast majority of our DNA is junk.

Most people know that DNA contains genes, which hold the instructions for life. But scientists have long known those genetic blueprints take up only about 2 percent of the genome, and their understanding of what’s going on in the rest has been murky.

Similarly, they have known that the genome contains regulators that control the activity of genes, so that one set of genes is active in a liver cell and another set in a brain cell, for example. But the new work shows how that happens on a broad scale.

It’s “our first global view of how the genome functions,” sort of a Google Maps that allows both bird’s-eye and close-up views of what’s going on, said Elise Feingold of the genome institute.

While scientists already knew the detailed chemical makeup of the genome, “we didn’t really know how to read it,” she said in an interview. “It didn’t come with an instruction manual to figure out how the DNA actually works.”

Ewan Birney of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Hinxton, England, compared the new work to a first translation of a very long book. “The big surprise is just how much activity there is,” he said. “It’s a jungle.”

The trove of findings was released in 30 papers published by three scientific journals, while related papers appear in some other journals. In all, the 30 papers involved more than 500 authors. The project is called ENCODE, for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements.

The human genome is made up of about 3 billion “letters” along strands that make up the familiar double helix structure of DNA. Particular sequences of these letters form genes, which tell cells how to make proteins. People have about 20,000 genes, but the vast majority of DNA lies outside of genes.

So what is it doing? In recent years, scientists have uncovered uses for some of that DNA, so it was clearly not all junk, but overall it has remained a mystery.

Scientists found that at least three-quarters of the genome is involved in making RNA, a chemical cousin of DNA. Within genes, making RNA is a first step toward creating a protein, but that’s not how it’s used across most of the genome. Instead, it appears to help regulate gene activity.
Scientists also mapped more than 4 million sites where proteins bind to DNA to regulate genetic function, sort of like a switch. “We are finding way more switches than we were expecting,” Birney said.
The discovery of so many switches may help scientists in their search for the biology of disease, particularly common conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma, scientists said.

Studies have found that DNA variations that predispose people to such common disease often lie outside the genes, raising the question of how they could have any effect. The new work finds evidence that many of these variations fall within or near regulatory regions identified by the ENCODE project, suggesting a way they could meddle with gene activity.

 

SOURCE:  Associated Press, Thursday, September 6, 2012

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - December 7, 2012 at 5:55 am

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