Monday, December 1, 2008

The DNA Network

The DNA Network

Skinny? Surprising exercise news [The Navigator - Navigenics Blog]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 08:07 PM CST

Michael Nierenberg, M.D.

imageIf you've been blessed with genes that help you look good in your jeans, lucky you.

But you haven't escaped the need to exercise.

Sure, being able to eat all you want without getting fat might seem like a blessing. Unlimited ice cream, limited time on the treadmill – what could sound better?  But studies clearly have shown that weight is not the best measurement of health. And if you're physically inactive you aren't doing yourself any favors, no matter what size you are.

Case in point: Recent research found that about one in four slim people had two cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar levels that are typically associated with obesity. Some of the obese people in the study, in fact, were in much better metabolic health than some who were considered to have "healthy" weights.

“We found that 23.5 percent of normal-weight adult Americans — or about 16.3 million people — are metabolically abnormal when it comes to heart-disease risk,” said Rachel Wildman, the study's lead author, in a written statement.

I can't say it enough: Skinny people need to exercise, too.

UC Davis giving further props to blogs (mine that is) [The Tree of Life]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 06:34 PM CST

Hey - thanks UC Davis.  Thanks for promoting blogs on your front page (under the Blogs, iTunes and Facebook section) and thanks for promoting my "Things Scientists should be thankful for"posting.  

Genetic Technologies gives back its gift to Australia [Genetic Future]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 05:55 PM CST

sad_baby_small.jpgA sorry saga in Australian commercial genetics has apparently drawn to a close - just as another one looks set to begin.

Let's start from the beginning. Back in 2003, Australian biotech Genetic Technologies bought the rights to a patent on testing of the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. In the face of massive public opposition to restrictions on public testing for the genes, the company announced that it wouldn't be enforcing the patent as a "gift to the people of Australia and New Zealand".

Then in July this year the company announced that it wanted its gift back: government testing laboratories around Australia received letters warning them that Genetic Technologies intended to resume enforcing its patent, and would prosecute anyone who persisted with testing beyond a November deadline.

Predictably, the move attracted a firestorm of protest, accompanied by boardroom shenanigans that warrant an article of their own. Now, with most of the board toppled from power, the company has officially announced a reversion to its previous position: the government labs can resume testing.

Breast cancer researchers, clinicians and women can all breath a sigh of relief. However, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 patents are not the only ones up Genetic Technologies' sleeve: ThinkGene points to a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald movingly titled "Sick babies denied treatment in DNA row". The row in question is over a patent held by the company over testing of a gene involved in a severe congenital syndrome, which the company appears intent on enforcing - despite the fact that the high cost it charges for the test allegedly reduce its availability to patients and potentially delay important therapeutic intervention.

While Genetic Technologies bounces spasmodically from one PR disaster to another, the fundamental issues associated with gene patenting remain unresolved. Will government testing laboratories and researchers have to continue to rely on the unlikely generosity of biotech companies (and the pressure of public outrage) to continue their work, or will the Australian government come up with a sustainable solution? Will the government be able to tread the fine line between permitting corporate monopolies and creating an environment that stifles innovation in the biotech sector? We'll see.

Meanwhile, every time Genetic Technologies blunders into a media minefield the public perception of the field of human genetics in Australia shifts perceptibly in the same general direction as the company's stock price - an unfortunate side-effect, given the overall promise of this field for the future of personalised medicine. On the bright side, perhaps the company will implode before it manages to cause much further damage...

(Huge thanks to an anonymous reader who has kept me informed on the comings and goings of GTG.)

Subscribe to Genetic Future.

Image credit: Ed.

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Happy Movember [Bayblab]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 04:42 PM CST

For all those who participated, thank you. We've collected just short of our $200 goal for prostate cancer, and hopefully reduced discrimination against mustaches...

The issue of gene patents [Think Gene]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 02:56 PM CST

Hospitals in Australia are stuck in a bad position when it comes to genetic testing. The Sidney Morning Herald has a piece discussing the patented gene SCN1A, which is used to diagnose a particular type of epilepsy in infants. The company that has the test patented, Genetic Technologies, won’t let hospitals do in house testing. Instead, they must resort to sending samples to Scotland to be tested…a process that takes a lot of time and costs much more than necessary. This results in worse care for the infants.

This is only the beginning of genetic testing. What role are patents going to play in this, especially considering that they seem to do more harm than good from the patient’s perspective. I wonder if there is some legal loophole that hospitals can use to get around this, at least in the United States. Perhaps it may work if the hospital conducted the test for internal research purposes only and then used the results after it had them, though I don’t know if this argument would hold up in court.

What do Think Gene readers think about this? Let’s hear your thoughts!

Some Ideas to Jump-Start Your Holiday Science Shopping [adaptivecomplexity's blog]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 01:10 PM CST

Here some science gift recommendations for this year:

Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin - What does our anatomy tell us about our evolutionary past? Shubin is the anatomy teacher I wish I had. He's a fossil hunter and a professor of anatomy, and a fun writer. Read my review here.

read more

Don't Do It! Testing Your Kid for the 'Athletic' Gene is Useless [adaptivecomplexity's blog]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 12:14 PM CST

Wouldn't it be great to know if your three-year-old has the potential to be a soccer star or a top marathon runner? One genetic testing company is offering to tell you just that, so that all of you obsessive, controlling parents can get your toddlers in the proper training program right from the start.

I'm sure most of you are probably cringing at the thought of using genetics to decide what sort of future you're going to push your kid into before she can even brush her own teeth. But even if you are a parent who sees nothing wrong using a little prior information to get a head start on your kid's bright athletic career, DON'T DO IT! Leaving ethical arguments aside, there are good reasons to stay away from these tests: they are not good predictors of athletic performance.

read more

The Future [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 07:00 AM CST

Pundits are predicting that the first computer that will be at least as intelligent as a human will be built in 2010 and by 2049 a $1000 computer will outsmart the entire human race. But, this video is about more than that.

It tracks the shifts that are occurring today and extrapolates them into implications for those currently in high school and higher education. Think about it, if you start a technical degree this year, half of what you learn in that four-year course will be outdated before you reach the end of the third year. After all, it took radio 38 years to reach a 50 million audience, television 13 years, the internet 4 years, and Facebook achieved a market penetration that size in just 2 years.

In 1984, the year I started university, there were 1000 internet devices around the world (I certainly didn’t send an email till more than four years after that). By 1992, that number was 1,000,000. Today, there are at least a billion internet devices and that number will inevitably rise as people with at least one personal computer augment their connectivity with more and more mobile devices. Incidentally, you can get Sciencebase on your mobile here.

The video was produced by the zyOzy Foundation, which believes that the themes in the “Did You Know?” video are global in nature and apply to schools and children around the world.

The Future

4 Days and Crazy $h!t Happens [The Gene Sherpa: Personalized Medicine and You]

Posted: 01 Dec 2008 05:27 AM CST

Did you ever notice how everyone drops out at Thanksgiving, leading to a 4 day weekend? I did, and I dropped out......a little. But I did keep my ear to the ground and found some interesting news I...

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Novelty DTC genetic testing company torpedoes their way into NY Times [Think Gene]

Posted: 30 Nov 2008 01:33 AM CST

Today’s New York Times had a story about a new DTC novelty genetic testing company. It’s a rather obvious example of a torpedo. This article was seeded by a PR company — it’s only news because ATLAS Sports Genetics has investors that know their best shot at success is buying their way into the New York Times.

ATLAS Sports Genetics is offering a test for ACTN3, otherwise known as the speed gene. They charge $149. For $249, you get the “ATLAS Plus” kit. It tells you how high your kid jumps. The $1000 package comes with a timer. I kid you not; they charge an extra 750 dollars for a timer. I have a better idea for finding out if your kid is good at sports: sign him or her up for the soccer team. Or baseball, or football, or gymnastics, or whatever he or she wants to do.

The ACTN3 test is the preeminent example of a novelty genetic test. It tells you nothing useful. It’s for fun — entertainment purposes only. I mean, if they had a genetic test that indicated something useful about athletic ability, that would be one thing. The ACTN3 test gives something of an indication about whether your muscles are more suited for sprinting or endurance. No matter what version of ACTN3 you or your child have, you can still play sports! 23andMe tests for the ACTN3 mutation in their $399 product and ATLAS will not be able to compete with 23andMe. If you’re looking to be entertained by a genetic test, get a 23andMe, not an ATLAS.

Biomarker-driven mental health 2.0 also posted their reaction to this story.

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