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Still Chasing Ghosts: A New Genetic Methodology Will Not Find the “Missing Heritability”

September 19, 2013 Commentaries, Health 17 Comments
Search for the missing heritability

By Evan Charney, Duke Institute for Brain Science, Duke University

One of the hopes and promises of the Human Genome Sequencing Project was that it would revolutionize the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of most human disorders. It would do this by uncovering the supposed “genetic bases” of human behavior. With a few exceptions, however, the search for common gene variants -“polymorphisms” – associated with common diseases has borne little fruit. And when such associations have been found the polymorphisms seem to have little predictive value and do little to advance our understanding of the causes of disease. In a 2012 study, for example, researchers found that incorporating genetic information did not improve doctors’ ability to predict disease risk for breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis [1]. … Continue Reading

Science and Social Control: Political Paralysis and the Genetics Agenda

NIH_1crop2

By Jonathan Latham, PhD (Originally posted July 31st and lost after a DDOS (electronic) attack).

Variations in individual “educational attainment” (essentially, whether students complete high school or college) cannot be attributed to inherited genetic differences. That is the finding of a new study reported in Science magazine (Rietveld et al. 2013). According to this research, fully 98% of all variation in educational attainment is accounted for by factors other than a person’s simple genetic makeup.

This implies that most of student success is a consequence of potentially alterable social or environmental factors. This is an important and perhaps surprising observation, of high interest to parents, teachers, and policymakers alike; but it did not make the headlines.

The likely reason is that the authors of the study failed to mention the 98% figure in the title, or in the summary. Nor was it mentioned in the accompanying press release. … Continue Reading

Is the Hidden Viral Gene Safe? GMO Regulators Fail to Convince

EFSA Head Office

by Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD

Having unwittingly allowed a viral gene into the food chain, the response of regulators so far has been to release statements intended to allay public concerns. These statements, however, are inadequate to meet a potentially major food crisis. Not only do they fail to address important issues but they are also scientifically questionable even within their chosen frame of reference.

The GMO regulators involved are the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). These two agencies have separately released statements (see complete texts EFSA and FSANZ) defending their risk assessments and conclusions in response to our recent article “Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in GMO crops“. … Continue Reading

Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops

Cauliflower Mosaic Virus

by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

How should a regulatory agency announce they have discovered something potentially very important about the safety of products they have been approving for over twenty years?

In the course of analysis to identify potential allergens in GMO crops, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has belatedly discovered that the most common genetic regulatory sequence in commercial GMOs also encodes a significant fragment of a viral gene (Podevin and du Jardin 2012). This finding has serious ramifications for crop biotechnology and its regulation, but possibly even greater ones for consumers and farmers. This is because there are clear indications that this viral gene (called Gene VI) might not be safe for human consumption. It also may disturb the normal functioning of crops, including their natural pest resistance. … Continue Reading

Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA

May 13, 2012 Health, Reviews Comments Off
Biology as Ideology

Author: by Richard Lewontin

ISBN: 0140232192 Publisher: Penguin books (1991)

Biologists know that complex traits are typically associated with genetic variation between individuals. Nevertheless, if we hear on the news that obesity, antisocial behaviour or some other disorder has a strong genetic component, we are likely to attach special significance to this ‘fact’. We may be less likely to attribute social factors as a cause and we may be more likely to accept a technological or pharmaceutical solution as a remedy. The disorder may also acquire a credibility and a sense of inevitability that it previously lacked. The reasoning that leads to these conclusions has a certain logic, after all we investigate causes primarily so that we can find remedies, but nevertheless we need to be careful that our thinking is well-founded.

… Continue Reading

‘Phantom Heritability’ Indicates Poor Predictive Value of Gene Tests

DNA Sequencing Machines

Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK (photo credit: jurvetson)

Last week, a paper on “phantom heritability” was published by a research group led by Eric Lander, one of the leading contributors to understanding the implications of the Human Genome Project (HGP) for common, complex diseases such as heart disease and cancer (1). The paper has created excitement amongst scientists who have been critical of the claims made for the likely impacts of the HGP on health and medicine. This is not because the paper makes a startling new discovery, but because it is an important step towards recognition of these long standing criticisms. … Continue Reading

Psychiatrists plead to continue funding of genetic approaches to disease

August 30, 2011 Health, News 5 Comments

Jonathan Latham

Ninety six leading psychiatric geneticists have publicly requested their scientific funding agencies not to abandon the search for genetic links to mental health. In a letter, published Aug 9th in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they argue that the ongoing failure to uncover significant disease genes for mental illness does not indicate that current research is fundamentally misdirected.

Instead, they believe that current experimental designs lack sufficient statistical power. And it is a defect they want remedied by further studies. “Since family history is a major risk factor” they write “we urge the major funding bodies worldwide to continue to support GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Studies) as a major investigative tool’. … Continue Reading

23andMe disproves its own business model

July 7, 2011 Health, News 1 Comment

Jonathan Latham

Online gene testing company 23andMe last week published its first genetic research study into Parkinson’s Disease. The study was funded by the participants (many of whom are customers of 23andMe), the company itself, and Google-founder Sergei Brin, who is married to 23andMe’s CEO and founder, Anne Wojcicki (1). Wojcicki is also personally subsidising the company and is a co-author on the paper.

23andMe’s study shows that two new genes it has discovered, plus all known existing genes linked to the disease, are not much better than random selection for predicting who will get Parkinson’s Disease. … Continue Reading

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Commentaries

Edward Snowden’s Testimony to the European Parliament on NSA Spying and its Consequences

Edward Snowden Barton Gellman/Getty Images

Independent Science News has decided to reprint (1) in full the March 7th testimony of Edward Snowden to the European Parliament. Snowden’s testimony is vitally important for every citizen in every country to understand, yet it has barely been covered by the commercial or (non-commercial) global media. At stake is the …

The Health Care Doctors Forgot: Why Ordinary Food Will Be the Future of Medicine

Apple and a Pear

by T Colin Campbell, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus, Cornell University The problem Few issues have become so intensely debated and politically charged as the need to reform the health care system. This debate has resulted in the ObamaCare program (The Affordable Care Act), which aims to expand and improve …

Fakethrough! GMOs and the Capitulation of Science Journalism

Biotechnology

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Good journalism examines its sources critically, it takes nothing at face value, places its topics in a historical context, and it values above all the public interest. Such journalism is, most people agree, essential to any equitable and open system of government. These statements about journalism …

The Founding Fables of Industrialised Agriculture

Farming in Italy

by Colin Tudge Governments these days are not content with agriculture that merely provides good food. In line with the dogma of neoliberalism they want it to contribute as much wealth as any other industry towards the grand goal of “economic growth”. High tech offers to reconcile the two ambitions …

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Reviews

Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA

Biology as Ideology

Author: by Richard Lewontin ISBN: 0140232192 Publisher: Penguin books (1991) Biologists know that complex traits are typically associated with genetic variation between individuals. Nevertheless, if we hear on the news that obesity, antisocial behaviour or some other disorder has a strong genetic component, we are likely to attach special significance …

The Unsettling of America

The Unsettling of America

Author: Wendell Berry ISBN: 0871568772 Publisher: Sierra Club books (1977) In 2002, peasant associations from all over Asia organised an international scientific conference. The motivation for the conference was the fact that peasants and their leaders had no dialogue with agricultural scientists, either from their own countries or with those …

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