2007 November

DNA Auction: Mr. DNA from Jurassic Park

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 15, 2007 in DNA on Auction

mr dna

You gotta be quick on this eBay auction that ends today, November 15, at 11:19 PST. This is an original animation cel of Mr. DNA from Jurassic Park with a starting bid of $75. Good luck!

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Newborn Genetic Screening in Minnesota

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 14, 2007 in DNA Testing, DNA and Disease

baby heelThe issue of newborn screening for genetic disorders in Minneosta is in the spotlight again. Chen May Yee of The Star Tribune explores the issue further with some very personal stories and gives the following reasons for why Minnesota has become “the battleground in the first big clash between genetics and privacy in the DNA age.”

  • Minnesota screens newborns for more disorders than most other states and is one of the few states that test for all the conditions recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics numbering 53 disorders.
  • Minnesota passed a law last year protecting genetic privacy.

Here are a couple of comments in response to the article. Many of the comments are personal stories about children who were found at screening to have potentially debilitating illnesses that required early intervention.

Molly Clay:

My daughter Grace died because of the lack of newborn screening in my state (GA). Had there been full screening coverage I would have known she had MCAD. However, because GA did not screen for this at the time she was born I had no idea that she had this deadly disease. If I had known, a few small changes in her diet would be all I had needed to do to keep her alive. Unfortunately this disease is a ticking time bomb with no symptoms. I woke up one morning to find my 19 month year old daughter blue and dead in her crib. She would be alive today if she had had comprehensive newborn screening at birth. This issue is important, do not let more children slip between the cracks. I think more children have these genetic disorders than we know of because of the lack of comprehensive screening.


Opt out? Sure, go ahead, opt out. But also know that if and when you decide to do that, you also opt out of the medical care that will be required to care for your child once the diagnosis of one of these deadly genetic diseases is made. You don’t get it both ways. The whistle-blowers are the same crowd who refuse to immunize their kids, blame autism on those immunizations, take for granted the tremendous hard work and heart-felt concern of the medical establishment for the afflicted…The people who understand what is really going on here will have to maintain a stiff upper lip as Twila Brase and her misguided minions waste our time and money parading “privacy” around like it was really possible – or ethical in this situation – to be “private.” Folks, privacy is a figment of your imagination. And here, especially, it is selfish and disrespectful of a medical community that has your best interest at the center of its efforts. Are we going to tolerate going back to the era where hypothyroid babies were diagnosed only after they had been permanently disabled by weeks of inadequate hormone production? Back to the day and age when polio epidemics swept the country? And to suggest that someone is going to find some sort of genetic “gold mine” in YOUR child’s DNA is just completely laughable. And you should be paid for that on top of it, even more so.

via Minnesota Gene Pool Blog

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Eye on DNA Headlines for 13 November 2007

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 13, 2007 in Eye on DNA Headlines


  • Sonia Smith of Slate included some of my comments in a round-up of blogs discussing the Sunday New York Times article regarding genetics, race, and prejudice. Also don’t miss this thoughtful comment from Eye on DNA reader Scott. Here’s an excerpt:

    The most frustrating part of this is that the data do not actually support these beliefs. The IQ data from the continent [Africa] is of terrible quality, such Malloy in his defence of James Watson was forced to resort to measures of schooling to shore up his conclusions. (A hint: African schools for the most part do not do a good job of teaching their students: if Malloy had ever been in one, he might have realised that.) But in this gene-crazy age, any explanation that invokes genetics and biology will automatically be privileged over one that invokes environmental effects, even at the New York Times.

  • DNA Network member Thomas Goetz of Epidemix attended the Annual Burrill Personalized Medicine Meeting yesterday. My boss, Ryan Phelan of DNA Direct, will be a panel member at today’s session: Patient-centric Medicine – PM from the Patient’s Point of View. I was also honored to contribute to the Burrill Personalized Medicine Report that was distributed to meeting attendees; I wrote on the intersection of consumer genomics and personalized medicine.
  • Barry Starr of the QUEST Community Science Blog has more on “gay genes” and says Bobby is more likely to be gay than Greg. So weird because I was trying desperately to remember the middle brother’s name in The Brady Bunch yesterday and had to look it up (it’s Peter played by Christopher Knight).
  • I’ve talked mice, dogs, tigers, mules, and other wildlife before so why not mention wild pigs? DNA fingerprinting is being used to identify wild pigs that have been illegally moved from one region of Western Australia to another for “recreational purposes.” I’m assuming that means hunting but you just never know nowadays….

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Geeky DNA T-Shirts: DNA Is Life

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 13, 2007 in Geeky DNA T-shirts

dna life t shirt

Edmund Scientific has a good sense of humor! This geeky DNA t-shirt reads: “DNA is life. The rest is just details.”

Update:: Proof that I’m no biochem prof, Professor Moran of Sandwalk points out the egregious error on the shirt.

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Once in a Lifetime on Nature.com

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 12, 2007 in DNA in General

Totally undeserved but I’m on the front of the Nature.com website today and tomorrow.

hsien lei on nature dot com
Click to see a larger image

Now’s also a good time to thank Euan Adie at Nature for including the members of The DNA Network in Scintilla and Postgenomic – two great ways to organize and discover science writing.

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Geneticist Barbara McClintock in The Daring Book for Girls

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 12, 2007 in DNA Podcasts and Videos, Personalities with DNA

barbara mcclintockRecently published, The Daring Book for Girls included Barbara McClintock, winner of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983, in the chapter on A Short History of Women Inventors and Scientists (excerpted at Neatorama).

1983 1993 [editor's note: not sure what this year refers to since Dr. McClintock died in 1992]

Barbara McClintock, an American scientist and cytogeneticist, becomes the first woman to win, unshared, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for her discovery of a genetic mechanism called transposition.

Earlier this year, I read out loud Dr. McClintock’s Nobel Prize banquet speech for this podcast. Click the play button to listen.

powered by ODEO

Update: Author Andi Buchanan wrote to say that it’s 1983 in the book and 1993 was a typo at Neatorama.

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DNA, Race, and Intelligence in The New York Times

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 11, 2007 in DNA in General

Much excitement over at Gene Expression today over a New York Times article by Amy Harmon looking at genetic differences between races – In DNA Era, New Worries About Prejudice.

Jason Malloy was quoted with respect to his defense of James Watson’s comments about blacks last month. He writes of the NY Times article:

Nothing quite like this article has ever really appeared in the press. The underlying message is that the biological information environment is changing rapidly and if we don’t start opening up the tightly monitored public forum for it right now, we are endangering our ability to handle its potential revelations with any sort of real preparedness or rationality. We, as a civilization, can’t just keep silencing and punishing everyone who broaches these topics in a way that challenges our hopes and visions about human equality. The result is to shut down the discussion completely and disarm ourselves to ideas that are most likely – to some degree – correct.

Sure, I’d like to talk but how do I and everybody else go about becoming better educated on the issue first? The average person likely assumes that genes don’t play a huge role in differences between individuals simply because we’re constantly being told that our DNA is more than 99% the same. So what does it mean when we’re told that there are significant genetic differences between races and that these differences influence our physical appearance, susceptibility to disease, intelligence, etc.?

student & globeHere’s what I can say about the influence of genetics on intelligence and performance in everyday life – I don’t even think about it. Last week, one of the mothers at my son’s UK school, who’s from Afghanistan and doesn’t speak English well, asked me to explain one of the kids’ homework problems to her. She said neither she nor her husband could figure out what the teacher was asking for so her son wasn’t going to be turning in his homework on time. Do you think genetics figures into this situation much?

Maybe on a big picture level but day-to-day, children’s success today and in the future comes down to having parents who are fluent (or at least semi-fluent) in the local language and organized enough to plan ahead so that they’d know if they had a question about the homework and anything else that’s going on in school. There is no doubt that my son has an advantage when it comes to having motivated parents

What’s important to remember in the discussion about genetics and intelligence is that our genes carry us a certain distance but our environment–the people we come into contact with and the resources that are available to us–is also critically important in determining our future. A person with Albert Einstein’s genes born and raised by Bushmen is going to be very different than his twin born and raised in 21st century Manhattan. Transforming the infrastructure in African countries into a replica of the United States’ will improve people’s living conditions dramatically but there will still be unique differences brought about by differences in the citizens and the locale. It’s actually a relief to think that no matter how many McDonald’s and Starbucks pepper the globe, each place and its people retain their own identity. People are different from one another, but not always in a bad way.

HT: Renata McGriff of CareTALK

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What’s in your DNA? #17

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 11, 2007 in In Your DNA

this is Hsien-Hsien's profileBubblegeneration Strategy Lab on Facebook taking over the world:

Research Note: Evil is in the DNA, Special Facebook Edition

Like I said: evil is deeply embedded in Facebook’s corporate DNA.

Julianne and Derek Hough of Dancing with the Stars were born to dance (so I watch the show, wanna make something of it ;) ):

Born into a Mormon family with three other siblings, Julianne and Derek had dancing in their DNA. Both sets of grandparents were dancers and their parents actually met on a ballroom dance team in college.

Graphic novel Hyperactive (not yet published) by Scott Christian Sava of Blue Dream Studios will be made into a movie:

The story is about Joey Caram, a teenager whose hyperactive metabolism enables him to move with incredible speed and agility. His skills catch the attention of a pharmaceutical company that wants to extract his DNA.

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DNA Video: Chris Smither

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 10, 2007 in DNA Fun, DNA Podcasts and Videos

Singer Chris Smither sings Origin of Species that includes references to DNA.

HT: Walter at Highlight HEALTH

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DNA Quote: The Innocent by Harlan Coben

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 9, 2007 in DNA Quotes and Excerpts

harlan coben the innocent

Who knew why? Sometimes it was, as in Hunter’s case, just a question of bad luck, but then again it’s all about luck, isn’t it? Your upbringing, your genes, your life experience, conditions, whatever – they’re all a crapshoot.

~p. 303, The Innocent by Harlan Coben

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