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News and insights in the world of DNA and genetics for paternity, immigration and forensics

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The idea of creating genetic passports for, plants, animals, microorganisms was a very hot topic between 2007 and looked like it was on it’s way to becoming a common, standard practice. However, at this time, for the most part, these burgeoning ideas seem to have been put on hold.

The idea to create genetic passports was suggested by the Technical Expert Group of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Lima, Peru and was backed by a group of experts from over 25 countries. The proposal, which stated that 150 countries, who signed a 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) treaty, would have sovereignty over the genetic resources originating within their borders and could control the use of their genetic resources outside of their borders. They would do so by providing specific information such as the material’s origin, its characteristics and the institutions responsible for providing and/or using it.

While the proposal was widely praised and supported, it does not appear that it was ever adapted by the Convention on Biological Diversity.  In fact, in a paper entitled “Genetic Diversity and Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources” the author(s) state that:

Accurate passport and characterization data are the first requirements, but users of plant genetic resources, particularly plant breeders, have also emphasized the need for improved evaluation of accessions. Evaluation is a complex process and there is serious backlog in most collections.

However, you can be assured that genetic passports for non-human organisms is on it’s way even if it is not currently implemented. Were there is a will, there is a way.

 

New York State officials are hoping that genetic testing can help solve the mystery of a mountain lion which mysteriously appeared in Greenwich. DNA testing will be used to determine where the deceased young male mountain lion came from and, hopefully, how he got to Greenwich, NY in the first place. Along with how is the question of any criminal aspect to his appearance.  A mountain lion was killed by a driver on Route 15 in Milford, NY early Saturday morning. Officials believe that this same lion that had been spotted in the upper King Street area of Greenwich earlier.

The mountain lion was neither neutered nor declawed, according to DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) officials. But they do believe the lion was let go from captivity or released into the area.  Mountain lions are not native to this region of the state

Officials believe that by conducting genetic testing, examining the animal’s stomach content and checking to see if it was microchiped, they can determine where the mountain lion came from, including whether the animal is native to North America or South America.

After the crash that killed the mountain lion in Milford, there were three other reports of possible mountain lions, but DEP is not considering them to be credible because of a lack of photos or significant paw prints.

New York state DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) received an anonymous call on Sunday to report a large cat in the area of exit 31 on the Merritt Parkway in Greenwich. Later a call from a Greenwich family reported a large tan cat in the backyard of their John Street home, near the Audubon. The family described the cat as a mountain lion.

DEP Officials are testing “scat” or feces to determine what the second reported animal is.

DEP officials say that part of the investigation into the deceased mountain lion will be done in New York, where officials are checking on “permitted lions” to see if that generates leads. The closest mountain lion population is located in Florida. While the mountain lions roam, DEP officials do not think it is likely that a Florida mountain lion would have made the trip that far north.

DEP officials said mountain lions are most active at dawn and dusk and anyone with information should call 860-424-3333

 

 

I thought that the “Is It Local?” comedic skit on the television show, Portlandia, took local dining to a new extreme.  However,  I recently came across an article about consumers who are willing to pay for a DNA test to confirm the source of their meet. This demand has pushed DNA tested, traceable, meat onto restaurant menus.

DNA-traceable meat is not a new technology, as it has been used in Europe and other countries for decades, but has been slow to catch on in America. This is beginning to change  according to industry experts. These experts say that DNA-traceable meat can pay off in multiple ways, including boosting consumer confidence, upping the value of a dinner, and cutting the time needed to track recalled meats.

Tracy Tonning, executive chef at Blackstone restaurant in Iowa City, Iowa thinks that “People want to know where their food is coming from and this gives you a perfect avenue for you to go ahead and find out. You can trace it back to where it came from, where it was raised… It’s a security factor for the guest, as well as the chef.” Blackstone resturant is one of more than 11,000 locations being supplied with DNA-traceable beef by Richmond-based food distributor Performance Food Group. Performance Food Group is able to do DNA tracing because it is using smaller suppliers dedicated to producing meat for the company.

Performance Food Group tested their products in some of the steakhouses it supplies, as well as surveying outside other restaurants. These surveys and tests showed consumers were willing to pay $2 or $3 more for the same cut meat if various “pleasers” were added — a higher quality of meat, traceability, as well as how the animals were treated and fed. This value only came if the customer knew about it.

Phil Lempert, a food marketing expert says that DNA-traceable meat is ”really good marketing. The awareness in general is, in my opinion, at the highest level it’s ever been — from a health stand point, from a food safety standpoint. We really need to rebuild confidence in our food and technologies like this help that.”

The process work because workers take DNA samples at processing point as well as other places along the supply chain. The samples are gathered to determine the specific animals each product came from. In addition information kept by farmers and others involved in the raising and processing of the animals can be added to give a more complete history.

In addition to rebuilding confidence in our food chain DNA tracing would also provide a faster way to identify the source of contaminated meat in the event of a recall. This could speed up the process from weeks or months to just hours. For example, it can identify the multiple animals whose parts were used in ground beef. Ground beef can be made up of meat from 1,000 different animals in a 10-pound box. DNA-tracing could point to particular animals and could even reduce the amount of meat affected by recalls, which generally are tremendously costly for producers, suppliers and others.

Read more: VA-Based Food Distributor Using DNA To Track Beef

That’s right April 25th is National DNA Day.  It was proclaimed by both the US Senate and the House of Representative in 2003 and while you might not have the day off you might want to stop and think about just what DNA has done for us.

DNA Day is a remembrance of the day in 1953 when a gound breaking article on the structure of DNA was published as well as the the day that the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003.

DNA has made big changes in our lives whether we know it or not.  So this April take some time to think about DNA and some of it’s many uses:

1. In archeology DNA helps record genetic information of life on earth many centuries ago. This creates a data base that can be used to learn more about our planets past.

2. Genetic testing is used to determine the paternity or maternity of a child.

3. DNA testing can be used to help create a family tree or genealogical chart. Through genetic data bases one can trace lost relatives or find ancestors. Using both the Y chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA people can use DNA testing to establish ancestral lines (both remain unchanged for generations).

4. Prenatal genetic tests can help doctors determine whether or not the unborn fetus will have certain health problems.

5. DNA tests are also used to help solve murders and other crimes. In recent years many unsolved mysteries have been solved due to new ways of analysis as well as clearing many people found guilty of crimes that the did not commit.

6. DNA testing finds great use in the health field as DNA sometimes is the cause of rare medical conditions or heritable diseases.

7. Genetic testing is used in healths checks. For example it can be used to help determine the presence of viruses or cells that have mutated (causing cancer).

8. DNA tests are often used to reunite lost siblings or families or identify remains of the unknown. The genetics of a person leaves an indelible mark and this is used by police, military and authorities as well as individuals to confirm relationships.

9. DNA tests on new species or on material from outer space help scientists and researchers determine the origins of a species and where they stand with reference to known living forms.

In 2009 a new laboratory was opened at the University of Otago it was expected to unlock secrets about the genetic heritage of Pacific people, animals and plants according to scientists and anthropologists.

The ancient DNA laboratory, allows scientists to extract DNA from bones, teeth and plant matter. The DNA will be analyzed using the latest technology, including the university’s $1 million gene sequencing machine which was purchased in 2008. The facility is a joint project between 3 departments.

Ancient DNA did not necessarily mean from antiquity, according to Professor Matisoo-Smith. In scientific terms, ancient means any DNA samples which were not taken from living subjects. Matisoo-Smith did go on to say that some of the samples the laboratory would handle would be thousands of years old.

Already, projects were planned with samples from many parts of New Zealand, several Pacific islands and from Chile.

Representatives of Maori iwi whose ancestors’ DNA will be analysed in the laboratory spoke of their initial reluctance to allow their ancestors’ remains to be analysed because of the intrusiveness of the process.  They did however agree to allow the DNA analysis after discussions with Prof Matisoo-Smith and her staff which allayed their fears.  Both sides are now hoping the laboratory would provide interesting information on how their ancestors lived, what they ate and what they looked like.

Respecting the remains of people from the past was paramount, said Prof Matisoo-Smith. An ultra-clean environment had to be preserved to ensure ancient DNA samples were not contaminated.

In just a year after opening, an international team of researchers, which includes University of Otago archaeologists Chris Jacomb and Richard Walter, successfully isolated ancient DNA from eggshells of extinct birds.

Previous attempts to recover DNA from fossil eggshell have been unsuccessful. Chris Jacomb said, “this new ability to isolate ancient DNA from moa eggshell opens up exciting new research possibilities not just for palaeobiologists, but also for archaeologists. Indeed, it was this potential to address important questions in New Zealand archaeology that drew Associate Professor Walter and me into this international collaboration.”

Using the DNA from the moa’s provides a powerful new tool in understanding how the demise of moa occurred. “Not only can we now match eggshell to particular moa species, we can develop detailed models of hunting practice by looking at the family relationships of individual birds. This will help us understand hunting and extinction processes.”

February 20th was a big day for Darlene and Cliff Ryckman.  It was the day when they got back their missing dog Molly.  Molly the Shih Tzu made it home because of DNA testing which was completed by local police.

In an unusual case that spanned nearly a year, DNA sample were taken to prove that Molly belonged to Cliff and Darlene Ryckman.

Molly had no microchip and no tattoo, so when the tiny dog went missing last year the Ryckmans were at a loss to prove the identity of the dog they had raised from birth.  Even though they found out who in the neighborhood had taken her in.

Darlene, said “I thought you know what, they do it on humans, they got to do it on animals,” when asked where shy got the idea to preform a DNA test on Molly.

The Ryckmans also own Molly’s sire, Howey, and had the DNA paternity test done to compare genetic material between the two. In all three test were performed on each dog.

The stressful year started last March 4 when the two dogs were let out into the back yard of the family’s home.  The gate wasn’t quite shut, and the two dogs started to chase a cat and the next thing Darlene knew, she couldn’t find Molly.

“I prayed every day,” she said. “I went to a psychic. I put it in The Spectator.”  Darlene also put an announcement on local TV, got the word out at some schools and put up flyers.

Almost right after Molly went missing, a woman responded to the flyers Darlene had posted.  She said had seen two people in the neighborhood pick up a Shih Tzu and take it into an apartment building.  Cliff, tracked down a specific apartment, and was told by a woman there that they did not have Molly.

The Ryckmans weren’t convinced and they were persistent with police.  Eventually they ended up face-to-face with the people who had picked up Molly on the street when they were out with Molly.  Darlene said of the encounter, “Seeing Molly just walking away from me … she was going nuts when she seen me and my husband, and I just broke down because I couldn’t take my dog and these people wouldn’t give me my dog back.”

Cliff said the whole situation was very upsetting for the couple.  He said,”It upset me to go to work because my wife would be crying everyday.”

But finally, after much determination and pursuing Molly through three moves by the people who had Molly, the Ryckmans paid $110 for DNA tests for the two dogs.  Constable Annette Huys, one of two officers working on the case, took the DNA samples.  Huys said, “I’d just come out of the forensic unit, so I was used to collecting lots of DNA, but not necessarily from dogs.”  Huys said unfortunately everybody had fallen in love with the Molly and it didn’t matter which side police dealt with, they were always crying when it came to talking about the Molly.

It took about two weeks for the samples to come back a match. Molly was returned to her the Ryckmans on February 20th.

Staff Sergeant Jack Langhorn called the entire case including taking doggy DNA “extremely unusual.” He said, “It was a unique situation … It wouldn’t be something that we’re going to do on a regular basis.”

Darlene said she’s grateful to the two officers who worked on the case and that, she’ll be getting Molly microchiped shortly.

The Hamilton Spectator

Dog DNA

Equinome, a company founded on research conducted at University College Dublin, just announced their new test to predict how horses will preform for racing. Testing will cost 1000 Euros per horse tested. Equinome’s test looks at the gene responsible for muscle mass development.

Muscle growth is governed by myostatin, a protein that determines whether an animal has compact muscles tuned for rapid sprints or a leaner body suited for endurance. There are three possible combination at this specific genetic marker. This test is not designed to identify how good a horse is likely to be, but rather what it will be good at.

According to Equinome, the three genetic combination that are possible are C:C, C:T and T:T.  A C:C horse is likely to be a fast, early maturing horse that performs well as a two-year-old, while a C:T horse has a mixture of speed and stamina and is the most versatile in terms of distance, and a T:T horse is best suited to races greater than 1 mile that require stamina.

Horse Genome Project coordinator Ernest Bailey of the University of Kentucky, Lexington stated that breeders have adopted genetic tests for paternity, coat color, and diseases but that performance prediction is new ground.

Equinome – The Speed Gene

I just came accost this article on the DNA Read the World website.  It was really interesting.  DNA really is helping fill in missing pieces of information in our knowledge.

New Insight Into Horse Evolution Friday, December 11, 2009 18:35 IST

Scientists at the Australian Center for Ancient DNA (ACAD) based at the University of Adelaide are studying ancient DNA from extinct horse species have discovered new evidence on the evolution of Equidae over the past 55 million years.

Only the modern horse, zebras, wild asses and donkey survive today, but many other lineages have become extinct over the last 50,000 years.

“Our results change both the basic picture of recent equid evolution, and ideas about the number and nature of extinct species,” Cooper said.  The study used bones from caves to identify new horse species in Eurasia and South America, and reveal that the Cape zebra, an extinct giant species from South Africa, were simply large variants of the modern Plains zebra.

Study’s lead author, Dr Ludovic Orlando, from the University of Lyon, said that the research team discovered a new species of the distinct, small hippidion horse in South America.  “Previous fossil records suggested this group was part of an ancient lineage from North America but the DNA showed these unusual forms were part of the modern radiation of equid species,” Orlando said.

“This has serious implications for biodiversity and the future impacts of climate change,” Cooper added

This study does not appear to have immediate consequences it continues to add to our knowledge of the world on which we live.  The bones that were studied come from different time periods and many show that these animals became extinct more recently than previously though some as recently as 50,000 years ago.  This study also suggest that we have under-estimated how much a single species can vary over time and space, and mistakenly assumed more diversity among extinct species than were possible.  While most children study Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution it is sometimes easy to forget that each species changes over time.

This article provides food for though regarding the environment around us and how it has been changing over time.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
National Academy of Sciences

I just came across an article distributed by the Global Press Release Distribution about the above topic. This brought my thinking to the use of DNA in general, and about the ethics of cloning specifically.

Dan Vergano, USA TODAY. Scientists have cloned man’s best friend for the first time, creating a genetic duplicate of a 3-year-old male Afghan hound, South Korean scientists reported Wednesday

The puppy was born in April to its surrogate mom, a Labrador retriever. His name: Snuppy, short for Seoul National University puppy. The team of scientists there that cloned the dog, led by Hwang Woo Suk, is the same one that first cloned human embryonic stem cells last year. Their achievement is reported in the journal Nature. Researchers have cloned other animals, but dog cloning has posed a particular challenge. And the difficulties have alarmed some animal advocates and researchers.

There are benefits of cloning your pet according to the Seoul National University, but there are also many groups that are questioning the ethics involved in cloning.

USA Today

This canine mystery solver is quickly becoming a popular within the dog community and in the media. Both ABC and NBC, as well as other mainstream media, bloggers and animal lovers with websites, have run stories on breed testing over the last few years.

NBC’s story ran 10/20/06 When Today’s hostess Meredith tested her own dog using the Canine Heritage™ XL Breed Test. This test uses cheek swabs. For step by step instructions see: http://www.dog-dna.com/tests/instructions-results.php. To see the full show visit http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&brand=msnbc&fg=&vid=e1ce80dc-75f9-4456-ad3c-d63a56e4aa9c&from=00

ABC’s story ran 5/20/2007 they tested Becky and Alex Shelton’s dog Sol using a blood test. This is a test that needs to be preformed at a Veterinarian’s office. Vets do charge fees for drawing the blood sample that would be in addition to the testing fees. For the full story see http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3193494

Both tests were very informative and it appears the breeds that made up these two dogs were identifiable. There are some times were this is not the case. For example many labs don’t test for “Pit Bull” and any dogs that include this breed would show as unidentified breed or something similar, or just not show up at all.

It is important to do your research on which ever type of testing you decide to move froward with. Most labs will have email addresses or phone numbers where you can verify which breeds are tested.