Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

"Voice" your opinions about genetic technology

Hsien-Hsien Lei of the Eye on DNA blog recently asked readers to define genetics in one simple sentence. I tried, with the following:

Genetics is the study of the operating instructions for life.

To this could be added: Scientists look at how the instructions are passed from one generation to the next, how instructions differ from one living thing to another, and how the instructions work.

For a "young" audience, something modern--operating instructions--could be useful. Note that the second sentence distinguishes the various components of genetic study: inheritance, form, function.

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Genetics for Dummies

Some time ago, my daughters suggested I write a "dummies" book about Genetics. I really don't like the series, but decided to think about it.

A few days ago, I did just that--think about it, that is--by checking out a link from some page that referred to genetics education sites. I found that there is already a Genetics for Dummies book, published in 2005, and written by a geneticist from the Northwest. 

Scooped again. But that leave more time for other things. 

If you're interested in reading this book, and other books on many, many topics, you can download free online versions. The site's bookmarked on my other machine, so I'll have to add it to this post in an edit. I had to register for and download an access program first, but could then download and read the book I wanted.

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Welcome to the geneforum blog!

Wow, have I been out of touch lately! A few weeks ago, when I returned to Oregon after selling my home in Utah, I logged in and promised to start posting blogs again.

Didn't make it. So, let's try again.

My personal news is that the Godfrey genetic pool has been increased by one beautiful baby boy, born to first-time parents. He doesn't look like any family member in particular, but does have a couple of features we suspect are genetically determined.

Now that I have access more often to a computer, I will be trying to post more regularly.

Here are some subjects I'm finding of personal interest at the moment. Let me know how these fit with your interests.

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ELSI: Ethical, legal, and social issues of genomics

Just returned from a conference in Cleveland, Ohio, dealing with the many different aspects and potential effects of sequencing the human genome. I'll write in the next couple of days about items that particularly interested me.

But first, what is genomics?

I hate to admit it, but when I first joined a group at the Utah Department of Health to discuss genomics, I had no idea what it was. Surprising to me was the fact that others gave me quick definitions, but they varied considerably. So, here's some of the ones you might consider:

Wikipedia: Genomics is the study of an organism's entire genome. The field includes intensive efforts to determine the entire DNA sequence of organisms and fine-scale genetic mapping efforts. The field also includes studies of intragenomic phenomena such as heterosis, epistasis, pleiotropy and other interactions between loci and alleles within the genome. In contrast, the investigation of single genes, their functions and roles, something very common in today's medical and biological research, and a primary focus of molecular biology, does not fall into the definition of genomics, unless the aim of this genetic, pathway, and functional information analysis is to elucidate its effect on, place in, and response to the entire genome's networks.

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Where did mitochondria come from?

Mitochondria, the powerhouses of the human cell, are passed to offspring only from the mother. Dad's mitochondria are used to propel those sperm toward the egg. Mitochondria have their own DNA, and their own system of replication and translation; they reproduce by simple binary fission. Sort of like a bacterium. That's why Lynn Margulis, in 1970, proposed that they--and chloroplasts--were independent organisms that genetically modified existing cells by taking up permanent residence in their hosts.

Click on Read more to see what they look like.

This photo was so beautiful, I couldn't pass it up. I took if from another source, which has not been updated since 2002. Don't know where it came from before that.

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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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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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Craig Venter's artificial life--new genetically-modified organism?

I forgot to buy my ticket for Craig Venter's lecture in Portland, Oregon November 15. Now, it may be too late.

Venter, of the human genome controversy, has announced that he has created artificial life. He--or someone in his laboratory--created a "chromosome" from 381 genes taken from Mycobacterium genitalum and inserted this material into a bacterium from which 1/3 of the genes necessary for life had been removed. The bacterium multiplied. In germ terms, that means it was alive.

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Rice with human proteins

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.

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