Genetics & Molecular Biology


Wouldn't it be great to know if your three-year-old has the potential to be a soccer star or a top marathon runner? One genetic testing company is offering to tell you just that, so that all of you obsessive, controlling parents can get your toddlers in the proper training program right from the start.

I'm sure most of you are probably cringing at the thought of using genetics to decide what sort of future you're going to push your kid into before she can even brush her own teeth. But even if you are a parent who sees nothing wrong using a little prior information to get a head start on your kid's bright athletic career, DON'T DO IT! Leaving ethical arguments aside, there are good reasons to stay away from these tests: they are not good predictors of athletic performance.
During the 2000 presidential election I was living in a fraternity house with a roommate serving in the Air Force.  When Bush was projected to be the winner, he jumped up and yelled,

"We're gonna have toys!  We're gonna have more toys!"

As he predicted, the next 8 years resulted in plenty of work and funding for the flyboys.  With the election of Barack Obama, perhaps us geneticists can start doing the same kind of dance.
Ever see a headline that forces you to read what follows against your better judgment?  Headlines like "Misplaced focus on experimental detail" work on me.  This sounds very "please, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."  I spend a lot of my working day worrying about experimental details.
Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute writing in Nature Structural&Molecular Biology say they have figured out how a macromolecular machine is able to unwind the long and twisted tangles of DNA within a cell's nucleus so that genetic information can be "read" and used to direct the synthesis of proteins, which have many specific functions in the body.
This comment by Andy was too good not to repost.
Generic press release for genome sequencing

Scientists map genome of (insert name).

A team of researchers from (insert university/institute/lockup garage) has completed mapping the genome of (animal/plant/squashy deep-sea thing).

"We were amazed how (strike one) similar/dissimilar it is to the human genome," said (insert name of lead scientist/grad student/custodian who happened to answer the phone).

The discovery should help scientists (strike all but one) cure cancer/end world hunger/prevent hair loss).

Scientists are reporting the first genome-wide sequence of an extinct animal, according to Webb Miller, Penn State professor of biology, one of the project's two leaders. The animal is the woolly mammoth, an extinct species of elephant that was adapted to living in the cold environment of the northern hemisphere and they did it by sequencing four billion DNA bases using next-generation DNA-sequencing instruments and a novel approach that reads ancient DNA with high efficiency.
The first tissue-engineered trachea (windpipe), utilizing the patient's own stem cells, has been successfully transplanted into a young woman with a failing airway. The bioengineered trachea immediately provided the patient with a normally functioning airway, thereby saving her life. 

These remarkable results provide crucial new evidence that adult stem cells, combined with biologically compatible materials, can offer genuine solutions to other serious illnesses.
Not so long ago, geneticists considered the vast stretches of non-coding regions in DNA to be “junk,” nothing more than the remnants of our evolutionary history. If it wasn’t a traditional gene, and didn’t produce a protein, it wasn’t of interest to most scientists. Luckily, not everyone considered these regions of DNA to be junk. Some considered the junk DNA to be the dark matter of the genome. They believed that it must have some function, but no one had yet determined exactly what that function was.
With apologies to Jonathan Eisen for encroaching on his annoyance specialty, here is yet another case of science via press release.
Big hop forward: Scientists map kangaroo's DNA Taking a big hop forward in marsupial research, scientists say they have unraveled the DNA of a small kangaroo named Matilda. And they've found the Aussie icon has more in common with humans than scientists had thought. The kangaroo last shared a common ancestor with humans 150 million years ago.
Researchers at the University of Utah are enrolling people in a new clinical trial that uses a patient's own stem cells to treat ischemic and non-ischemic heart failure.   The one-year Cardiac Repair Cell Treatment of Patients with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (IMPACT-DCM) study will look at the safety of injecting Cardiac Repair Cells (CRC) and their ability to improve heart function.