Advances in genetics and biotechnology are impacting society in provocative ways. The Genetizen is written by a select group of scientists, bioethicists, and healthcare professionals who provide you with expert analysis and commentary on many important issues.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in blog postings may or may not reflect the opinions of Geneforum. In addition, the content provided here is purely informational and not a substitute for advice from your personal physician.
I've got a theoretical question that probably has little to do with any business that anyone is involved with, but it's a question that is bothering me. Can some other armchair Darwinist help me to think about this one? Does anyone know any evolutionary biologists who would know the answer to this?
So I saw this study from Norway. I was linked to the study from this magazine, which was founded by two Duke students. Basically it says that within Western cultures, blue eyed men as a whole prefer blue eyed women, and that no other group (brown eyed men, brown eyed women, blue eyed women) seems to have a preference. The reason for the preference among blue eyed men, according to the thesis, is that eye color is a Mendelian trait, and that blue eyed men unconsciously become more secure in their paternity (i.e. that their wives weren't cheating) by marrying other blue eyed people who give birth to their blue eyed children. Women have no preference because they are assured of their maternity when the baby comes from their bodies, and brown eyed men have no preference because their children could be brown eyed or blue eyed, depending on the alleles of their (and their partners') genes. According to the thesis, this preference of blue eyed men for blue eyed women developed over time through evolution which selected blue eyed men who were assured of their paternity.
And here’s the latest news: Oregon wins by a score of 49 to Utah’s 46!! Football? A very defensive basketball game? Certainly not soccer, hockey, or baseball. So, what’s the game?
The game is Life and the scores are based on available newborn screening for life-threatening conditions and diseases. If you happen to live in Washington State, the score would be 14. If your child is affected by one of the genetic conditions not screened for in Washington—or Virginia, where Stephen Monaco was born—there’s a very small, but real, possibility that your child could die or be severely disabled by an undiagnosed genetic condition.
A brief blurb from a NY Times article online that I came across. I thought this was quite relevant to some of our lectures in the 2007 Summer Public Health Institute.
“Yet UnitedHealthcare is trying a risk-sharing experiment with Genomic Health, a company that sells a $3,460 genetic test meant to help determine whether a woman with early-stage breast cancer would benefit from chemotherapy.
The insurer has agreed to pay for the test for 18 months while it and Genomic Health monitor the results. If too many women are still receiving chemotherapy even if the test suggests they do not need it, Dr. Newcomer said, UnitedHealthcare will seek to negotiate a lower price on the ground that the test is not having the intended impact on actual medical practice.
Having just completed my traditional undergraduate education in microbiology/biology, I anticipated undertaking the monotonously strict mathematical and biological rigors involved in studying genetics, genomics and proteomics, similar to the courses offered at my alma mater, The University of Michigan. But after the first day at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s 2007 Summer Health Institute, I realized how wrong my presumptions had been.
What made this experience unique was the outstanding opportunity to study a topic, rather an important and emerging field, in great detail. The prospect of attending parts I and II of the Genomics in Public Health series would give me the chance to not only hear lectures from highly respected individuals in their respective fields, but would give me a platform upon which to engage in discussion with others on many of these topics. The exposure to important research topics such as stem cells, nutrigenomics, and pharmicogenomics has since framed my opinion of the future of medicine.
Although the human genome project has led to public discussions of privacy protection and potential breaches of confidentiality, the collection of data for the public good should be discussed as well, to demonstrate the public health aspects and to motivate the public conversation. Trends in Biotechnology published a paper with an interesting approach to the question of balancing the risks and benefits, "Our Social Genome?", (July 2007, [doi:10.1016/j.tibtech.2007.04.006 ]) and that may prompt further discussion. Since the protection of privacy and confidentiality, and definition of ownership of genetic information is so critical to society, and requires public conversation, thought provoking papers can serve as focal points to generate these discussions.
Muin J. Khoury, MD, PhD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Office of Public Health Genomics director, hosts a monthly Public Health Genomics Seminar Series. Sessions for the remainder of 2007 include such diverse topics as family history, regulation and overview, and health disparities.
See the attached for a list of topics. The Web page also includes stored videocasts and pdfs of presentations. Log in for the next seminar on Thursday, July 26, 2007, from 1 - 3 p.m. CST at http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/events/special1.htm
Tell the Senate to take action on GINA NOW!
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA, (S.358) is on the verge of passing after 12 long years! The House bill (H.R.493) passed 420-3 on April 25 and the Senate bill has been reported out of committee. We just need the full Senate to vote on the bill to get it to the President’s desk!
Tell your senators to push for GINA to come to the floor for a vote! A list of senators and their contact information is below. Please take a few minutes to tailor the sample letter below on your letterhead and fax it to the Senate (or call, or email them - http://www.senate.gov/). Feel free to insert personal reasons for your support of the bill into the text.
Normally, I expect a very conservative viewpoint from the Deseret News, one of Utah's church-owned newspapers. That's why I was surprised to see a liberal op-ed piece yesterday. Even more interesting, it came from Ellen Goodman in Boston--another conservative place. Perhaps minds are opening in the US. Here's what Ellen had to say:
“By now you may be forgiven for suspecting that science is tinted — if not entirely tainted — by politics. The arguments over evolution and global warming alone are enough to make anyone believe that we have red and blue science as well as red and blue states.
James Watson--of the famous Watson and Crick duo--just had his genome completely mapped. The articles I've read so far don't say whether the map will be available to the public. From what I understood Watson was reluctant to have that happen.
In any case, single-person genome maps are being touted in the media. Should I ask for one as a birthday present? Probably not anyone I know well enough has $1 to 2 million to spare. I expect the hype about $1000 genomes will return to the media.
The approach to the mapping is an interesting one in the Economist: the author talks a bit about genetic testing as a business model:
I graduated last year from Portland State University (Oregon) with a double major in History and Philosophy and a certificate in Biomedical ethics. I am currently enrolled in a three-week course in public health genomics as a part of a Public Health Summer Institute at the University of Minnesota. Even with that academic background, a limited medical background from the patient side, and a limited (yet) informed exposure to genetics in a senior capstone class I took last year at PSU, "Democracy, Ethics, and Civic Discourse in the Gene Age," I was completely overwhelmed by the scientific content and language of a recent presentation on Pharmacogenomics (the general study of all of the many different genes that determine drug behavior, that is, an attempt to understand not only the molecular composition of genetic variants (SNPs) but also the behavior of those variants, including how those genes affect drug receptor sites.
Geneforum is creating a new thread on public health genomics, a way to think about public health problems in the Genetic Age. In the opinion of many, Genomics, the study of the complete set of genetic information in an organism, will be to the 21st century what infectious disease was to 20th century public health. According to Muin Khoury, Director, Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The ultimate challenge of public health genomics is to determine the benefits of using genetic informaiton to target interventions that improve health and prevent disease."
From the country that brought you above-ground nuclear testing comes a new invention: rice with human proteins!
The commercial operation promises that these proteins can be given to the poor starving children in the world to help them recover more rapidly from disease, specifically diarrhea. The company offered the rice to Missouri farmers, but Anheuser-Busch blocked the idea. Now, some farmers in Kansas have agreed to accept the opportunity. The rice--there are three different versions, one for each of three proteins--will be grown on more than 3,000 acres in Kansas. The company plans to harvest the proteins and use them in drinks, desserts, yoghurts and muesli bars.
Yesterday, I spent some time viewing a video on the most important advances in genetics. You can see the video by clicking on the link in yesterday's blog. It's fun to watch and very informative.
There were only two things that bothered me: as the film progressed the link between face and sound became less and less accurate. By the time the film ended, Bill Nye was still moving his mouth, but the sound had long since finished. Anyway.
The second item, and the one I commented upon to the website was apparently giving all the genome-mapping kudos to Craig Ventner. The project was so much broader than that! At the very least, the Department of Energy contributions--they're the ones keeping the project going--should have been mentioned. In case you wonder why the Department of Energy (I did), it's because our government has no biological agency, except per haps the National Institutes of Health. So, DOE --and us of course--supplied a big part of the necessary money for mapping the entire genome.