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Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life

February 6, 2017 Commentaries, Health 8 Comments
Phytoplankton

by Jonathan Latham, PhD

Test your understanding of the living world with this simple question. What kind of biomolecule is found in all living organisms? If your answer is “DNA”, you are incorrect. The mistake is very forgiveable though. The standard English-language biology education casts DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) as the master molecule of life, coordinating and controlling most, if not all, living functions. This master molecule concept is popular. It is plausible. It is taught in every university and high school. But it is wrong. DNA is no master controller, nor is it even at the centre of biology. Instead, science overwhelmingly shows that life is self-organised and thus the pieces are in place for biology to undergo the ultimate paradigm shift. … Continue Reading

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

September 19, 2013 Commentaries, Health 26 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 essentially all 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 the summary abstract. Nor was it mentioned in the accompanying press release. … 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

23andMe disproves its own business model

July 7, 2011 Health, News 2 Comments

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

The Great DNA Data Deficit: Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?

Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?

Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD

Just before his appointment as head of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Francis Collins, the most prominent medical geneticist of our time, had his own genome scanned for disease susceptibility genes. He had decided, so he said, that the technology of personalised genomics was finally mature enough to yield meaningful results. Indeed, the outcome of his scan inspired The Language of Life, his recent book which urges every individual to do the same and secure their place on the personalised genomics bandwagon.

… Continue Reading

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Commentaries

Gene Drives: A Scientific Case for a Complete and Perpetual Ban

Mosquito and DNA

by Jonathan Latham, PhD One of the central issues of our day is how to safely manage the outputs of industrial innovation. Novel products incorporating nanotechnology, biotechnology, rare metals, microwaves, novel chemicals, and more, enter the market on a daily basis. Yet none of these products come with an adequate …

Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life

Phytoplankton

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Test your understanding of the living world with this simple question. What kind of biomolecule is found in all living organisms? If your answer is “DNA”, you are incorrect. The mistake is very forgiveable though. The standard English-language biology education casts DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) as the …

Industrial Production of Poultry Gives Rise to Deadly Strains of Bird Flu H5Nx

A factory chicken farm

by Robert G. Wallace Multiple outbreaks of deadly H5 bird flu are decimating poultry across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The epidemic, moving across Eurasia in wave after wave, follows an eruption of H5N2 here in the U.S. in 2015. All the new strains—H5N2, H5N3, H5N5, H5N6, H5N8, and …

There’s Nothing Parochial About the Issue of GMO Food Labeling

Monsanto Prop 37

by Jonathan Latham, PhD The GMO labeling issue has quieted down some but there is still plenty to discuss. Just this week the USDA proposed to redefine GMOs with new loopholes for gene editing. However, it is also possible for reasonable people to imagine that GMO labeling is a sideshow …

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Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

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