The Genetizen


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.

How to find specific blog entries

Because our organization is currently operating on no outside fundiing, we've chosen to keep our website simple. One loss, as far as I'm concerned, is the inability to search for specific blog entries using key words. I'm sorry that is the case. A search engine that is not flexible enough to find what you are looking for is worse, we believe, than nothing.

So, here's what you do if you are interested in a particular topic: click on the linkis at the left, by subject. There was only one entry in bioweapons--the blogger quit almost immediately, so that's not on the list. However, the other general topics are. They look really weird, you say. That's true, but for some programming reason I do not understand, such topic lists look weird on a number of sites--including those written by professionals who really know their html, etc.

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Finding responses to comments

If you've posted a comment and want to see whether it was accepted and whether there are other comments or responses, go to the blog entry on which you commented. All comments related to that blog entry are posted with the blog entry.

Marie Godfrey, PhD 

mgodfrey39's blog

What will prostate genetic testing do for men?

I've written several times about women who have double mastectomies after learning that they carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation and, as a result, are many times more likely to develop breast cancer than women without one or both mutations.

The news in the past couple of days has been describing 5 genes identified as conferring risk of prostate cancer. Apparently the effects are additive in that one gene mutation alone is not enough to give increased risk.

None of the articles I have read indicates what men will do with the information if a test is developed and they learn of their increased potential for getting prostate cancer. Apparently the genes do not affect PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels, so there's no indication that the current standard test for prostate cancer would be helpful.

| read more | mgodfrey39's blog

Government DNA databases--who's targeted?

The retention of millions of innocent people's DNA raised "significant ethical and social issues" in the United Kindom, which has launched an inquiry into the way the national DNA database is used.

According to an article in the BBC news,

Since 2004, the data of everyone arrested for a recordable offence in England and Wales--all but the most minor offences--has remained on the system regardless of their age, the seriousness of their alleged offence, and whether or not they were prosecuted.

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Studying the function of the BRCA2 gene

Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, women have had a genetic test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations association with higher risk for breast cancer. So far, it's been difficult to determine exactly what the genes do in humans, other than interfere with the function of two suppressors apparently needed to properly manage DNA replication and repair.

A recent article in PLOS Genetics, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal, describes some experiments that have been conducted with the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, which also has a BRCA2 gene. The article is titled "Drosophila brca2 is Required for Mitotic and Meiotic DNA Repair and Efficient Activation of the Meiotic Recombination Checkpoint" and the abstract reads as follows:

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Genomics lectures begin Jan 15

On January 15, the National Institutes of Health is beginning a series of lectures on Current Topics in Genome Analysis. If you do not live in striking distance of the location of the lectures (Lipsett Amphitheatre, NIH Clinical Center (Building 10), on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland from 10:00 am to 11:30 am), you can get all the information you need from the website. Lectures will be available online after the live lecture is finished and DVDs will also be available. There should not be any charge for either.

| read more | mgodfrey39's blog

The genetics of autism

I was lucky enough to attend several scientific meetings this year, thanks to the Advocate Partnership program of the Genetic Alliance, and attended the session where one of the scientists involved presented the information being discussed in many media outlets yesterday and today about the genetics of autism. As you read, listen to, or watch the news presentations, note that the "large, non-inherited chromosomal deletion" being discussed is extremely rare and in no way accounts for all cases of autism. Also, the parents of affected children were themselves unaffected.

| read more | mgodfrey39's blog

Genetics education in the genomics age

I was once lucky enough to teach genetics to an advanced placement biology class in high school and was able to teach Mendelian genetics after teaching about DNA, RNA, etc. I also had my students read Huxley's Brave New World. In the Mendel unit, they did fruit fly crosses and were to use their results to respond to Mendel's letter about the seven "inheritable units" he studied. They had to identify and name the mutation they were studying, then follow its inheritance through two generations. What mattered in the final analysis was how they interpreted their data in comparison with Mendel's predictions. Naturally, I chose mutations that didn't seem to fit predictions.

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Using Internet tools to learn about genetics

I got side-tracked today to a computer guru site, one portion of which deals with general issues. In this case, a writer wanted to get an update on genetics before he started a new course at college. He asked a series of questions basically worded as vocabulary definitions

In geneticss, can it be said that:

Codons are composed of three bases
Alleles are composed of any (within reason) number of codons
Chromatids are formed by lots and lots of alleles
Chromosomes are formed by two chromatids (except during 2nd stage meiosis)
Genomes are formed by the full number of chromasomes found in a cell.

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Is genomics improving YOUR life?

The human genome has been sequenced. Genetic testing--according to media and advertisements—is available to help you determine how to live the rest of your life. The price for this information had dropped below $1000. Are we any closer to the promises of cures for debilitating diseases?

Douglas Kamerow, former US assistant surgeon general and associate editor of the British Medical Journal, in an article dated 5 January 2008, asks what have we gotten for our money?

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Genetic tests available online are a waste of time and money

At least three articles today indicate that experts around the world are finding genetic tests available through the Internet are a waste of time and money. Here are the three I sampled:

1. From Australia: Genetic testing over the net a waste of money says experts

. . .people who buy genetic tests from private companies are usually wasting their money. The specialists say the genome-wide scans on offer will provide little meaningful information because the science is still too preliminary.

They also believe the scans can mislead people into becoming either over-anxious about being labelled "high risk", or over-confident that they are at low risk of a particular disease.

| read more | mgodfrey39's blog

Cheap genome maps--under $1000?

The big hype this week in genetic testing comes from the addition of yet another company to those hoping that we are so interested in learning about ourselves that we will fork over $1000 (or $999 or $985 at a discount) for a map of our own genome.

Here are some things about this subject you might want to know:

1. How do you take a sample? You won't know the details until your kit arrives, but you will most likely learn that the sample will be saliva or a rubbing from the inside of your cheek. You don't have to provide a blood sample. If the company info doesn't provide clear enough instructions, be sure you rinse your mouth well before taking a sample; you'd probably hate to pay $1000 for the genome of that beef or corn you just ate.

| read more | mgodfrey39's blog

Newest stem cell developments

I learned about the newest stem cell advance--converting human skin cells into stem cells--the day before the news was released. I didn't write about it as the news was breaking because I needed time to digest what the newspapers and online news sources were saying. So, now I'm ready.

I'm pleased to see that almost all articles inserted at least one note of caution about how long it will be before the discovery could translate into treatments for human conditions. Typically, however, the caution appeared in the "weakest" position in the articles, at the end of the carryover to an inner page. This, of course, is the place readers rarely reach.

| read more | mgodfrey39's blog

Interesting sites to check out

Yesterday, the blog received a comment from a site that might be of interest to those in

public health genomics and genetically modified organisms:

new website on public health with section on GMOs

I have recently developed a website covering public health and social justice, which can be found at or at The website covers the social, economic, environmental, human rights, and cultural contributors to health and disease. The site contains articles, slide shows, syllabi, and other documents. References for most of the information contained in the slide shows can be found in the accompanying articles. Presentations will be updated a few times per year.

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DNA testing and individual people

If you missed it, you should check out the article that appeared in the New York Times written by Amy Harmon. She titled it: My Genome, Myself: Seeking Clues in DNA. Amy writes in a put-it-down-on-as-it-comes-out-of-your-head style not unlike mine, so of course I enjoyed reading it.  

Amy was given the chance--and she accepted it--to be one of the early participants in the $1000 sales of whole genome analysis being offered online by several companies. In my usual policy of not naming specific companies, I'll let you check her article or use a search engine to find one.

| read more | mgodfrey39's blog