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

Archive for November, 2007 Monthly Archives

Olive Oil

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – DNA scraped from inside clay vessels show that a ship that sank off the coast of Greece 2,400 years ago was carrying a cargo of olive oil, oregano, and probably wine, researchers reported on Friday.The new research may offer a way to analyze the long-gone contents of hundreds of containers, said Brendan Foley of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.Writing in the Journal of Archeological Science, Foley and colleagues at Lund University in Sweden said they were able to get DNA sequences from the insides of two amphoras recovered in 230 feet of water in 2005.

The clay containers appeared empty, but the researchers decided to try testing for DNA anyhow. To their surprise, they got some — and not the DNA they were expecting.

The island of Chios where the shipwreck was found was well-known in the ancient world as a major exporter of highly prized wines. But the two amphora in fact carried DNA from olives and oregano.

They also found evidence of wine and perhaps pistachios, they said.

Foley hopes to use the technique to find out more details about the ancient shipping trade.

“Imagine if you were asked to analyze the American economy just by looking at the empty shells of 40-foot (12-metre) shipping containers,” he said in a statement.

“You could say something, but not much.”

Tanzanian Mother and Child

While on a climbing expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2001, Sacramento State biological science professor Ruth Ballard and a Graduate Student got the idea to create a Tanzanian DNA database based on the fact that there were still many tribes with unstudied DNA markers. When Ballard approached the Tanzanian government for permission, they asked her to develop a database for the entire country that would help establish and resolve paternity issues and crimes like rape, murder and theft.

“It was a bigger project than I first imagined,” Ballard said. “The government wanted me to leave their country a legacy. We would go out on ‘saliva safaris’ in a great, big vehicle for the day,” Ballard said. “We took over 1000 samples from many different tribes.”

According to the article in The State Hornet:

“Due to increasing industrial growth, many Tanzanian men have moved to other cities to find jobs. In the process, most have left their wives and children behind,” Ballard said. “These women and their children are left in abject poverty and are desperate for the ability to force the men to pay for their kids. It’s a bad situation…the women want it solved.”

Ballard, along with agencies that help women and children rise above poverty, is working on trying to make the paternity test affordable and accessible to all women.

If the government enforces the paternity law in a stricter manner, the goal of making the test more readily available for women will be possible.

The team’s next goal involves building a new forensics laboratory in Tanzania so Tanzanian researchers can update their database independently without the need for outside help. The database will play a huge role in helping Tanzanian people with their paternity issues, Ballard said.

Professor Ballard has announced that the Tanzanian database will be featured in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in January.

Chupacabra Head and Owner/Finder

Photo/Eric Gay

SAN MARCOS, Texas – The results are in: The ugly, big-eared animal found this summer in southern Texas is not the mythical, bloodsucking chupacabra. It’s just a plain old coyote.

Biologists at Texas State University announced Thursday night they had identified the hairless doglike creature.

KENS-TV of San Antonio provided a tissue sample from the animal for testing.

“The DNA sequence is a virtually identical match to DNA from the coyote,” biologist Mike Forstner said in a statement. “This is probably the answer a lot of folks thought might be the outcome. I, myself, really thought it was a domestic dog, but the Cuero Chupacabra is a Texas Coyote.”

Phylis Canion and some of her neighbors discovered the 40-pound bodies of three of the animals over four days in July outside her ranch in Cuero, 90 miles southeast of San Antonio.

Canion said she saved the head of the one she found so she could get to the bottom of its ancestry through DNA testing and then mount it for posterity.

Chupacabra means, “goat sucker” in Spanish, and it is said to have originated in Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Additional skin samples have been taken to try to determine the cause of the animal’s hair loss, Forstner said.


By Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press
NEW YORK — An Abyssinian cat from Missouri, named Cinnamon, has just made scientific history. Researchers have largely decoded her DNA, a step that may aid the search for treatments for both feline and human diseases.The report adds cats to the roughly two dozen mammals whose DNA has been unraveled, a list that includes dogs, chimps, rats, mice, cows and of course, people.Why add cats? They get more than 200 diseases that resemble human illnesses, and knowing the details of their genetic makeup should help in the search for vaccines and treatments, researchers say. The list includes a cat version of AIDS, SARS, diabetes, retinal disease and spina bifida, said Stephen J. O’Brien of the National Cancer Institute.

The new work is reported in the November issue of the journal Genome Research by a team including O’Brien and colleague Joan Pontius. It covers about two-thirds of the DNA of Cinnamon, a research cat that lives at the University of Missouri in Columbia; more complete results are expected next year, O’Brien said.

Richard Gibbs of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who led a team that decoded the DNA of a monkey called the rhesus macaque, called the new work “a good outline” of cat DNA. Scientists are looking forward to the complete version, which will be useful for making detailed comparisons to the DNA of other animals, he said.

The full complement of an organism’s DNA is called its genome. In cats, as in people, it’s made up of nearly 3 billion building blocks. The sequence of those blocks spells out the hereditary information, just as strings of letters spell out sentences. Decoding a genome, which is called sequencing, means identifying the order of the building blocks.

The new work identified 20,285 genes in the cat, probably about 95% of the animal’s full complement, O’Brien said. That’s similar to the 20,000-25,000 genes estimated for humans.