Our genome: Ten years old and still growing fast


Double helix, courtesy NIH/National Genome Research Institute

It’s the 10th anniverary of the coding of the human genome. Snuck up on me — but not on Nature or Reuters. Both of these outfits — two of the best science/med reporting teams out there — published big, beautiful, multipart packages today. They’re worth a look even if you’re not a genome geek.

Reuters looks at what NIH director and former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute Francis Collins found when he finally had his genome run last summer: a disposition for type-2 diabetes, among other things. Collins was test-driving three of the biggest genome-sequencing companies (Navigenics, 23andm3, and DecodeMe) to see if they’d produce similar results. They all agreed he ran extra risk for diabetes. He reacted by losing 25 pounds — but “as a rule,” the story says, Collins

doesn’t consider such tests especially useful — at least not yet. says he feels genomic information provided so far doesn’t offer all that much. “Admittedly, right now your family history may be your best bet and it doesn’t cost anything,” he said.

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Accidental brain evolution suffers a reversal


Early homind skulls, from A Kansan’s Guide to Science (seriously)

A couple weeks ago, the Guardian ran an article in which Oxford neurobiologist Colin Blakemore described “how the human got bigger by accident and not through evolution.” Though I didn’t get to it at the time, I thought that an odd headline, since evolution actually occurs when genetic accidents — those mutation things — grant an advantage. Now John Hawks has written a post addressing what he says is a pretty big muckup by Blakemore:

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The Week’s Best: Evolution, healthcare reform, clever apes, and Cheever in his undies


from a different Daily Dish — 365 petri dishes, by Klari Reis

House of Wisdom, the splendid new blog on Arabic science from Mohammed Yahia, editor of Nature Middle East describes an effort to map the Red Sea’s coral reefs with satellite, aerial, adn ship-based technologies. Nice project and a promising new blog.

Brain and Mind

Ritalin works by boosting dopamine levels, says a story in Technology Review, reporting on a paper in Nature Neuroscience. The effect is to enhance not just attention but the speed of learning.

As several tweeters and bloggers have noted, H-Madness is a new group blog on the history of psychiatry — a rich and rowdy subject. Curious? Obviously the site holds clues. But Somatosphere’s Eugene Raikhel gives a good overview of the new blog’s plans and ambitions.

Obesity Panacea reports that simply painting lines on a playground is one of the most effective ways to get schoolkids to exercise.

Evolution (and close relations)

Carl Zimmer and John Hawks, among others, discuss papers in Cell and Nature that provide a genome sequence of a very old pinky bone from what may or may not be a new homind species. Hawks say not not not. Others weighing in Zimmer’s post say maybe so. Kudos to Zimmer on this. As in a few other instances, he has used the high profile of his blog, and the breadth and strength of his connections, to make the blog itself a place of rich discussion among scientists. Students of the new media landscape, NB.

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The old print roots of blogging. Mostly SFW

How new, then, is bloggery? Should we think of it as a by-product of the modern means of communication and a sign of a time when newspapers seem doomed to obsolescence? It makes the most of technical innovations—the possibility of constant contact with virtual communities by means of web sites and the premium placed on brevity by platforms such as Twitter with its limit of 140 characters per message. Yet blog-like messaging can be found in many times and places long before the Internet.

Here, for example, is a recent post on The Superficial:

RadarOnline reports “traditional marriage” crusader and former Miss California Carrie Prejean is living in sin with her fiancé Kyle Boller of the St. Louis Rams where they’re no doubt eating shellfish. BURN THEM!

And here is a typical entry from Le Gazetier cuirassé ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France (1771):

Mlle. Romans is soon to marry M. de Croismare, Governor of the Ecole Militaire, who will use six aides de camp to take his place in performing the conjugal service.

via blogs.nybooks.com

Posted via web from David Dobbs’s Somatic Marker

Choosing not to use genetic testing is an option. Ignorance isn’t.

Daniel McArthur and Daniel Vorhaus have a beef:

Earlier this month, the Sunday Times published an op-ed piece by Camilla Long critiquing the practice and business of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing (“When DNA means do not ask”). It is Long’s right, of course, to express her opinions, but the article is peppered with factual inaccuracies and exaggerations that demand correction.

While it is regretful that Long herself chooses to remain willfully ignorant of her own genetic information, she is within her rights to do so. However, her attempt to impose that ignorance on her readers – by failing to accurately represent the challenges, as well as the potential, of personal genomics, and by demeaning those who choose to learn what they can from their own genome – is misguided.

Whether Long is prepared for it or not, the age of personal genomics is upon us. That does not mean that every individual will – or should – embrace personal genomics today. However, as technology and scientific understanding improve, genetic information, including genetic risk prediction, will become an increasingly routine part of our lives and our medical care. Sooner or later, growing numbers of us will be faced with the challenge of making sense of genetic probabilities, with implications both for our own health and that of our children.

via timesonlinehttp://scienceblogs.com/geneticfuture/.typepad.com

I hope to find time to write more on this myself soon, as the issue of making sense of one’s genetic information, complicated as it is already, is not going to get simpler as more of it becomes more cheaply and quickly available.

Posted via web from David Dobbs’s Somatic Marker

Gleanings – mind & brain, law and war, media, bad trains


Cordyceps in glass, by glass artist Wesley Fleming — a strange depiction of a rather horrid business. For more, do go to the source, the lovely Myrmecos Blog, which is all about bugs.

Now, the best of the week’s gleanings. I’m going to categorize them from here out, and at least try to keep them from being from completely all over everywhere about everything.

Mind, brain, and body (including those gene things)

While reading Wolpert’s review of Greenberg’s book about depression (he didn’t much like it), I found that the Guardian has a particularly rich trove of writings and resources on depression, some of it drawing on resources at BMJ (the journal formerly known as the British Medical Journal). This is a happy collaboration and mix of regular journalism and academic resource.

Ed Yong examines how Requests work better than orders, even when we’re asking or ordering ourselves. Among other things, notes Yong, this is “testament to the power of grammar.” NB. Yong, on a serious roll of late, also explains how the sperm of ants and bees do battle inside the queens.

Vaughan Bell describes his run-in with Baronness and neuroscientist Susan Greenfield regarding the corrupting powers of internet indulgence. He liked her more than he expected to her. Which doesn’t mean he agrees with her.

The excellent Genetic Future notes the announcement of NIH’s new genetic testing registry, a publicly accessible database of genetic tests due to be available in 2011.

And Virginia Hughes wrote a splendid article on fMRI and its use in the courtroom. Here Helen Mayberg, whom I’ve profiled and whose work on depression I have written about often, squares off against Kent Kiehl, who is also very smart and, like Mayberg, an interesting figure full of interesting ideas. I’ll leave to you to decide whose argument is stronger. Kudos to Nature for putting this, and an increasing amount of its non-peer-reviewed content, on open access.


Jay Rosen has a wonderful post on How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists. The backchannel is the twitter stream that audience members now rather routinely produce while a conference speaker or panel holds forth at the front of the room; it carries hideous dangers for the unwary, unprepared, or just plain unlikeable speaker. Rosen gives splendid tips on how to answer this challenge. The gist is to have one of the panelists tune into and contribute to the backchannel (and let the audience know this) and use the backchannel as a springboard for discussion. Some serious multitasking. Rosen tells how he and his co-panelists at a SXSW panel pulled it off. Fascinating stuff.


Democrats Inch Toward Securing Votes for Health Bill. The CBO, it seems, is ahead of them; Ezra Klein says the CBO found that the bill cuts deficit by $1.3 trillion over 20 years, covers 95%. Here’s a good take on the finished draft. Meanwhile, the news that the number of unfilled scrips approaches 15% might bolster the weak.

Forbes has a good post on Medicine’s Dance With The Devil, with those parts played by two cardiologists in a debate at the American College of Cardiology’s annual convention. Speaks well that the debate should occur.

Et alia

I just planned a complicated trip to the West Coast. Trip would be simple, actually, if I could just take fast trains along north-to-south route: LA to Palo Alto to SF to Vancouver. I almost booked the Amtrak from LA to San Jose, but it took over 10 hours (if it runs on time) and so gets me there well after bedtime. Instead I took a bunch of planes, and will wear myself out with overly loud airport CNN and too many shuttles and burn a ton of carbon. Perhaps I should move to Spain, where High-Speed Rail Gains Traction.

Finally, Welcome to DeborahBlum.com, where you can choose your poison and possibly win a very fancy trip — hotel, ride in a Rolls — to see the book’s breakout party

Gleanings – storms, vegetables, violence, grace, and a correction


The sky before Katrina struck, from Rense.com
Correction: I been snookered. As alert reader Alex Witze pointed out, these photos were taken by stormchaser Mike Hollingshead in Nebraska and Kansas in 2002 and 2004, and have passed around the net in other guises ever since. For more amazing storm photos, go to Hollingshead’s site, extremeinstability.com. He has some doozies.

You may be shocked but not surprised to hear that Insurance Company Dropped Customers With HIV.

We knew this, but The World Needs More Vegetarians.

Robert Kaplan ponders the challenge that is Man Versus Afghanistan.

I am finding Instapaper’s newsroll suprisingly well-targeted. Along with news, it coughs up keepers such as:

1. The Atlantic looks at the contributions of a particularly distinguished investigative journalist, John Crewsdon, who was recently released from the Chicago Tribune.

2. David Foster Wallace’s delicious profile of Roger Federer.

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.(1)