I just came across an article distributed by the National Public Radio (NPR) about a scientific beak though in DNA sequencing. This article just goes to show that DNA can answer current question about crimes, relationships and health but it can also help us look into our past.
Scientists have used DNA lurking inside the teeth of medieval Black Death victims to figure out the entire genetic code of the deadly bacterium that swept across Europe more than 600 years ago, killing an estimated half of the population…
People back then had no access to modern antibiotics and were likely weakened by other infections as well.
Poinar says the ancient Black Death DNA looks so similar to Yersinia pestis that still infects people today that researchers believe the medieval strain must be the ancestor of all modern strains.
The Natural History Museum of Denmark’s Thomas Gilbert says the insights that come from these studies will be of interest not only from a historical perspective, but also to help scientists understand how deadly epidemics have emerged in the past so that they can get ready for what might come in the future.
For the full story see: Decoded DNA Reveals Details Of Black Death
While this field of research might not seem very practical at first glance there is a wealth of knowledge about, diseases, bacteria and the ways we interact with them and how they spread and change.
By now you have heard the news: On October 3rd, 2011, Amanda Knox and former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, won their appeal in an Italian court and were acquitted and freed for the murder of British student, Meredith Kercher. Despite a previous trial and guilty verdict based on supposed DNA evidence, both convicted parties won an appeal and a deeper trial over the evidence occurred.
While we could pick over all of the details of the case, we’ll leave that for another organization to discuss. Instead, allow us to focus alone on genetic evidence.
With no obvious motive, no independent witnesses and no confessions, the Italian prosecutors had to rely on genetic evidence found at the crime scene to convict Knox and Sollecito. This makes sense as genetic evidence is supposed to be iron clad. Or is it?
The original conviction relied on traces of Sollecito’s DNA being found on the victim’s (Kercher) brassiere clasp, together with traces of DNA from both defendants being found on the knife allegedly used to slash Kercher’s throat. However, similar to our famous U.S. tales of botched crime scene evidence (ie. the Jon Benet Ramsey or OJ Simpson cases), the prosecutions evidence has been marred with rumors of bad police work and possible fabricated evidence. Furthermore, not only did the defendants know Meredith Kercher, but Amanda Knox lived with her.This complicates matters on an enormous level.
The first issue is called “contamination”. Unlike crimes where the victim and perpetrator don’t know each other, and therefore a genetic link is most likely an obvious connection, it is hard to do the same with roommates and their visiting friends – there will always be matching DNA present. And although DNA evidence puts a person ‘at the scene of the crime’; it does not necessarily prove they committed the crime.
Secondly, although DNA evidence can match the scene of a crime, it does not allow for “time-based evidence”. There is no telling if a match occurs because a victim or perpetrator was present at the time of the incident or exists because they were present at some other point in history.
Finally, although many people have been successfully prosecuted on DNA evidence, it is not failsafe or full proof. Typically, a DNA sample found on a murder weapon will be said to match the DNA of the suspect to the extent that only one person in one million would have the same profile. However, if a particular genetic profile is held by one person in, say, one million this means that in a country with a population of 60m will have 60 people that give a perfect mach for the DNA evidence and even more would match a partial profile of that evidence.
In the U.S., a man called Kerry Robinson was convicted a few years ago of gang rape. In an independent investigation last year DNA evidence from the crime scene plus Robinson’s DNA profile was shown to 17 ‘blind’ analysts with no contextual information: the 17 experts were hugely divided – 12 said the suspect could be excluded.
Although no one can or should doubt the genetic evidence is a powerful tool for solving crime, it is not perfect and it has it’s weakness, from false positives to human error. One thing is for certain – this legal matter and it’s evidence will be scrutinized for a long time to come. Let’s hope that we can learn from it.
In a move that seems deceptively futuristic, but is in fact a sign of the times, the Nazareth, Pennsylvania based Martin Guitar Company is making waves in their industry by including botanical genetic coding in the body of their instruments.
Generations of the Martin family have been proudly making guitars since 1833. The current management, headed by Chairman and CEO Christian Frederick Martin IV, recently decided that, in an attempt to continue to fight for their otherwise stellar reputation, they will implant each new instrument with a DNA tag designed to thwart counterfeiters and send a message that they will not watch their company’s reputation diluted by cheap knockoffs, coming predominately out of China.
Gregory Paul, the company’s vice president of operations said, ”"The Martin family has always been vocal about fighting overseas counterfeiters. They have had a particularly hard time persuading the Chinese Government to prosecute imitators who have been selling inferior products under the C.F. Martin name.” “The Internet makes it too easy for a counterfeiter or their distributor to offer even a handful of units to a very broad audience. Ads for these sites crop up every day.”
The genetic tagging was developed by Applied DNA Sciences a company from Stony Brook, N.Y., which pioneered the technology allowing manufacturers to mark their products with a unique trace of plant DNA. According to a spokesman for the company ”The DNA tag itself can be put into anything in the production process it can be put into ink, for labels on wine bottles. It can be put into glue or varnish or just about anything.”
Applied DNA is also working with the Department of Defense to put tags on microchip components that go into weapons systems in order to combat counterfeit chips that have been making their way into the military supply chain.
What we wonder is how, exactly, the instruments will be tested for authenticity and how much it will cost to do so. Furthermore, if DNA/genetic coding can be found in the guitar and used for genetic testing to confirm authenticity, then won’t counterfeiters be able to obtain and replicate the DNA from the instrument(s) and apply it to their own?
Big questions for a big future in genetics…
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
The newest in your child’s athletic careers might just be a genetic test to see what sports they may be suited for. The parent simply swabs the inside of the child’s mouth and sends the cotton swab off to the company for analysis. The tests are reported to be able to:
• Give coaches and parents early information about their child’s predisposition for success in team or individual sports.
• Can be used to help developing a personalized training and conditioning program necessary for athletic and sport development.
The real question is are these claims fact or fiction? What makes an athlete? When evaluating athletes, amateurs or professional, you need to look at combination of physical, mental and social attributes. Unfortunately these test can cause children or their parents to push for extreme sports regiments with out looking at the mental and physical effects on the child.
Some of the long term effects are due to life-long injuries to areas like back, knee and hip which are often the end result of extreme forms of exercise or adult obesity and the probability of heart disease which can be an unfortunate outcome of the misguided concept of “bulking up.” Rapid weight gain at any age is associated with dramatic increases in abdominal fat, which is linked to diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
We continue to believe that now we have discovered the human genome sequence we are able understand how the human body works, and we would be even crazier to think that knowing about a few genes can let us shape the future of a child for any reason not just for sports.
By Briana R.
Clonaid™ a company that claims to be a provider of reproductive human cloning services announced that a baby born on December 26th, 2002 was the first cloned baby. The baby, called Eve, is reported to be a clone of her mother. The company provided no pictures of the baby and no names of the parents were offered, not even a vague location of their whereabouts. By 2004 Clonaid had claimed the successful birth of 13 health cloned babies.
Cloning creates a new individual using only one person’s DNA. The process is technically difficult but conceptually simple. Scientists remove the genetic material from an unfertilized egg, then introduce new DNA from a cell of the animal to be cloned. Under the proper conditions, the egg begins dividing into new cells according to the instructions in the introduced DNA.
Cloning experts have said they need to see DNA evidence done by independent experts before they believe Clonaid’s claims. As of yet this has not happened. In 2003, it appeared that the world might get the evidence of cloning when freelance TV journalist and former ABC-TV science editor Michael Guillen, said he had chosen an expert who will draw DNA samples from the Eve and her mother. Guillen, said he had no links to Clonaid and was not being paid for his work. He had picked, two “world-class, independent DNA testing labs,” where other experts will look for a match between the samples. Unfortunately the samples and the testing never appeared.
At this point human cloning is still an unfounded claim and a hot topic of debate. Clonaid’s announcement created a flood of questions: ethical, medical, political, religious — some which belonged solely to the field of science fiction up to this point it appears. Their announcement also created a flurry of legislation and/or guidelines to ban human cloning have been introduced or passed in dozens of nations, including the United States. While many countries, including Britain, Israel, Japan and Germany, already have banned human cloning.
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.
When President Obama announced Sunday evening, May 1st, that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a United States military operation, many wanted physical proof that the person killed and taken into custody was in fact Mr. Osama Bin Laden.
At this time reports are confirming 3 ways the remains were identified: 1) Facial recognition software was used to match the remains with facial photos of Osama Bin Laden. 2) There was apparently a personal identification of the body by someone inside the complex (exactly who identified the remains is unclear). 3) DNA testing of the remains took place within hours of death.
DNA Testing is now fast and accurate. It no longer takes weeks but can be done in the matter of hours and has a 99.9% or better accuracy rate. At least one question remains – who, how or what did they test to confirm that it was Osama Bin Laden? Did they test a family member against his DNA? There is speculation that they could they have tested the purported Osama Bin Laden sample against DNA from his sister, which (according to reports) had been held at Massachusetts General Hospital after her death in Boston last year. Or did they somehow already have Osama Bin Laden’s DNA on file and test against that?
According to Dr. M. Al Salih, who works at DNA Reference Laboratory in San Antonio, TX, he is sure that the results are accurate. “You can come up with a very solid and absolute certainty that that is him and nobody else. If you identify that individual through those markers, and you can compare and you can say, ‘They match,’ or ‘They don’t match.’” Salih went on to state that the technology is very precise and results are 99.9 percent accurate.
However, on the other side is Dr. Greg Hampikian, a biology professor at Boise State University, says if they can get DNA from one of his kids and their mother then they do a reverse paternity test to confirm his identity and he suspects that is the type of DNA testing that was done. However even with a 99.9 percent identification Hampikian says that this case is not closed. As a scientist, Hampikian says 99.9 percent does not equal a positive identification.
As is the case with most major events such as this, skeptics speculate that we have not received enough proof and conspiracy abounds. One thing is for certain, we love conspiracies and we will never really know the truth.
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.