2007 April

Eye on DNA Official Launch

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 30, 2007 in DNA in General

launchWelcome to Eye on DNA! I’ve been in stealth mode for about a week and am happy to be launching EyeOnDNA.com today. Have a look around and if you like what you see, please subscribe to the feed or sign up for the email newsletter and add me to your blogroll.

Please, please, pretty please? If you’d like me to beg some more, you can always email me or leave a comment! :D

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DNA Technology Makes Spiked List of Greatest Innovations

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 30, 2007 in DNA Fun, DNA in General

dna origamiIn an as yet unpublished list of greatest innovations compiled by sp!ked, recombinant DNA, DNA origami, and PCR were included.

From The Guardian:

Sir Tim Hunt, principal scientist at Cancer Research UK and Nobel laureate, plumped for the set of techniques used by molecular biologists to manipulate DNA. “Recombinant DNA technology has made the biggest difference to the way my kind of biologist works today,” he said. “We couldn’t have got anywhere without it.” He shared the 2001 Nobel prize for work on molecular factors that regulate cell division.

Eric Drexler techno-guru “DNA origami” – a method for building 3D molecular structures.

Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North A method for copying DNA called the polymerase chair reaction. “The PCR machine was an immediate must in every laboratory and has led to amazing discoveries in forensic science.”

Limiting yourself to the world of genetics, what else do you think should be on a list of greatest innovations?

NB: Here are some directions for folding an origami DNA molecule, which is not what Eric Drexler is referring to.

Update:: The list of great innovations will actually be published on sp!ke over May and June. There’s also a public event being held in London on June 6, 2007 that will include a panel debate.

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Living on Earth Looks Back at Gene Patents

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 29, 2007 in DNA Podcasts and Videos, DNA and the Law

Who Owns Life? Patenting Human Genes first aired in 1995. To celebrate the 16th anniversary of Living on Earth, a weekly environmental news and information program broadcast by Public Radio stations, the story is being told again with an update. Click play to listen.

powered by ODEO

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Lab Help at Your Fingertips – OpenWetWare

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 28, 2007 in DNA Lab Talk

Laboratories are intimidating places. The glaringly bright fluorescent lights reflecting off the cold linoleum floors, large machines doing things that no mere mortal understands, black countertops scarred by acid and other chemicals, freezer after freezer of samples marked with biohazard signs…. Imagine yourself there on your first day without a clue where to stand so that you don’t contaminate something. You can prepare yourself by visiting OpenWetWare first.


Started at MIT by the Endy and Knight labs, OpenWetWare is a wiki that is open to everyone interested in laboratory procedures and exchange of scientific information. For instance, there’s a page on avoiding RNase contamination that says you should use separate sets of pipettors and avoid touching the barrel or metal ejector to the side of the tubes. Anyone can add to or edit the information already there just like The Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia. Much of the existing content at OpenWetWare could use some fleshing out and there is much that hasn’t been included yet.

If you’re currently working in a lab involved in some form of biology, what are you waiting for? OpenWetWare is a great place to ask questions, share what you know, and congregate with other lab rats. Maybe I should go add what I know about electroporating malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum. Zap!

HT: Jason

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Free Maternal DNA Ancestry Test for Mother’s Day

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 28, 2007 in DNA Fun, DNA and Genealogy

I win stuff. I’ve won beverages, needlepoint kits, magazines, books, bedsheets, money, and all manner of silly things in contests, raffles, and lotteries. Maybe I have a good chance of winning a free maternal DNA ancestry test being offered by Chromosomal Labs in honor of Mother’s Day on May 13.

To enter, email MothersDay@chromosomal-labs.com. If you win, you’ll receive:

  • A World Map with Migrational Route
  • A Certificate
  • A Report

I can’t vouch for the company’s accuracy or authenticity, but it’s always fun to win stuff anyway. Tell them I sent you! (I have no affiliation with Chromosomal Labs.)

For more information, see their press release which has a very silly title: Do you know where your mom was 150,000 years ago.

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DNA Helix at the Lawrence Hall of Science

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 28, 2007 in DNA Fun, DNA in General

On my annual trip to the San Francisco Bay Area this month, I took my four-year-old to the Lawrence Hall of Science, part of the University of California, Berkeley. On the plaza, they have a huge DNA sculpture for kids to climb on and explore. (Click on the images to see a larger version.)

IMG 5121

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Cat Fight Over Diabetes Genes

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 27, 2007 in DNA Fun, DNA and Disease

alligator with trophyMy gene is bigger! No, mine is! Yours might be bigger, but I’ve got more of them!

Such is how the researchers come across in Nicholas Wade’s New York Times article about seven new diabetes genes.

Dr. Mark McCarthy of the University of Oxford in England:

It has not been a terribly productive field until the last two or three months.

Translation: You guys have all been a bunch of lazy losers.

Dr. McCarthy again:

The DeCode paper only found one new gene, and we found three.

Translation: Nyah. Nyah. We won!

Dr. Kari Stefansson, DeCode Genetics chief executive:

I would be a fool if I thought these guys would never pull their act together and besides, if we were the only ones to do this it would be an insupportable burden.

Translation: I’ll share this time but watch out next time!

Dr. Michael Boehnke of the University of Michigan:

It’s very exciting to have results in which we truly believe.

Translation: All the previous results other people produced can’t be trusted but my results are the best.

Dr. David Altshuler of the Broad Institute:

I tip my hat to DeCode. But the technology is now widely available.

Translation: Stop bragging about your fancy DNA toys. We all have them now.

*All said in jest. Don’t be mad at me if you’re one of the scientists mentioned above!!

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Victory for Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 26, 2007 in DNA Podcasts and Videos, DNA and the Law

If you care at all about how your personal DNA affects your life, your health, and your ability to protect both with insurance, you need to watch this video of Rep. Louise Slaughter speaking yesterday about genetic privacy and HR 493, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) which passed in the House 420 to 3. The bill bans health insurance companies from adjusting the premium or contribution amounts based on genetic information and also has provisions for preserving its confidentiality.

More from Wired.

Update (April 24, 2008): GINA has passed the Senate.

via The Personal Genome

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Trial By DNA

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 26, 2007 in DNA and the Law

gavelJerry Miller has become the 200th person to be exonerated in the United States using DNA evidence. He served 24 undeserved years in prison.

Imagine 50 years into the future when DNA testing is so simple, reliable, and commonplace that detectives at a crime scene have handheld PCR and data analysis machines. Collect a sample and analyze it on the spot. Plug the data into a wi-fi enabled PDA, run the database comparison, find the criminal or at least eliminate the suspects.

Trials would be simple and quick. Prosecutors, judges, and juries could focus on understanding the criminal’s motive and fair sentencing. Only DNA evidence would be needed to prove that someone committed the crime.

What do you think? What’s the future of criminal investigation using DNA?Could it really be so simple?

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National DNA Day 2007

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 25, 2007 in DNA in General


One of the more interesting features of DNA Day is the online chatroom where people can ask geneticists questions. Here’s one of the questions I saw when I popped in:

Q: sophie and marielle, spanish river high school: What is DNA profiling?

A: Barbara Fuller: DNA profiling essentially means making an assumption about someone based on their DNA, and without any other characteristics. For example, making a determination on someone’s appearance based on their DNA – when their actual appearance may be very different from what you suspected. [Posted: 1:47PM EST]

What the @#! I don’t believe we’re talking about racial or criminal profiling, Ms. Fuller (who I believe is a lawyer holding a JD). DNA profiling refers to DNA fingerprinting – studying a person’s DNA to identify their unique pattern as a way to match them up with other DNA samples or other people. Dr. Michael Baden has an extensive write-up on DNA profiling at the website of crime writer and forensic anthropologist Dr. Kathy Reichs.

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