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The Great White Shark Genome Is Here

Is there any more daunting animal to study than the great white shark? Just you try attaching a radio transmitter or drawing a tube of blood from a six-ton, razor-toothed, meat-seeking missile. But scientific understanding of these iconic apex predators has been limited by technical challenges as much as human bias for studying species that reside on closer branches of the taxonomic tree. Sharks evolved from the rest of the animal kingdom 400 million years ago—before the first adventurous amphibians left the oceans for dry land. What could the great white possibly teach 21st century humans? Continue Reading →

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Scientists Are Sequencing the Planet’s Genome

A network of scientists around the world Thursday launched a 10-year project to sequence the genomes of all the 1.5 million known plants, animals, and fungi on Earth. The Earth Biogenome Project is a collaboration designed to avoid duplicating one another’s work and to make all genome data inter-operable and open for public use. Its leaders estimate that the total cost will be around $4.7 billion, which is less than the almost $5 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars than the Human Genome Project cost in 2003. Continue Reading →

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New study shows cloned sheep are living long lives with few health problems


Those of you who survived the roarin’ 1990s will almost certainly remember Dolly the Sheep, who was created from a single adult cell that was combined with an egg cell that had been stripped of its DNA. In other words, Dolly was a clone. Dolly was all over the news when she was born in 1996, but soon after, she started to suffer from health problems, with many people assuming that she was facing these issues because she was a clone. A new study of 13 cloned sheep, including four from the same cell line as Dolly, is showing that may not actually be the case. While Dolly was plagued early on by problems like osteoarthritis and eventually had to be put down in 2003 because of a tumors in her lungs, the clones studied here seem to be aging without many problems.

Though the study, which was led by developmental biologist Kevin Sinclair and a team of scientists from the University in Nottingham in England, says that it observed “no clinical signs of degenerative joint disease apart from mild, or in one case moderate, osteoarthritis in some animals,” it also states that somatic-cell nuclear transfer (the process by which the sheep were cloned) has “no obvious detrimental long-term health effects.”

This is pretty big news, as the health problems Dolly experienced brought into question the overall healthiness of cloned animals. Continue Reading →

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Tracking down the ancestry of First Lady Michelle Obama


First Lady Michelle Obama always suspected that she had white ancestors. But she had no idea who they were. With DNA testing and research, I was able to solve that mystery and finally identify the white forbears who had remained hidden in her family tree for more than a century.

All across the country, growing numbers of people are turning to DNA testing as a tool to help unlock the secrets of their roots, using companies such as, among others. When I started researching my new book, “American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama,’’ I pored over historical documents that I found in local archives, courthouses and libraries as well as records that I found online on and other state and local databases. But I knew that DNA testing would be the only way to unearth the truth.

I suspected that Mrs. Obama’s white ancestors belonged to the white Shields family that had owned her great-great-great grandmother, Melvinia Shields. So I persuaded several descendants of the black and white Shields to do DNA testing.

The results showed that the two families were related. The DNA testing indicated that Melvinia’s owner’s son was the likely father of Melvinia’s biracial child, Dolphus Shields. (Dolphus Shields is the first lady’s great-great grandfather.)

But last month, members of both sides of the family – black and white — put aside the pain of the past. They got together for the very first time in Rex, Georgia at a ceremony to commemorate Melvinia’s life. They swapped family stories, posed for photographs, exchanged phone numbers and had a meal together.

It was something to see.

David Applin, who is Melvinia’s great-grandson, said the reunion was “wonderful.” And Jarrod Shields, who is the great-great-great grandson of Melvinia’s owner, described it as a day “my family will never forget.” Continue Reading →

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The ‘Hamburger Report’ uncovers the hard truth about your veggie burgers


Clear Labs, the food analytics company behind last year’s Hot Dog Report, has released a new report detailing some perhaps unsavory findings about hamburgers. Using next-generation genomic sequencing—a more sensitive and robust form of genetic analysis than traditional methods—the scientists at Clear Labs sampled 258 burgers from 79 brands and 22 retailers and analyzed them for food safety and quality. “We saw fairly significant issues, such as substitution and missing ingredients or pathogens in about 14 percent of the overall sample,” Mahni Ghorashi, co-founder of Clear Labs told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. “We were quite surprised by the high rates of problems in vegetarian products; they had about twice as many problems [compared to the meat products tested.]”

For example, 23 percent of vegetarian products had “some form of discrepancy between product and label,” the report read. One black bean burger had no black beans—instead it was composed of all the other ingredients that go into a black bean burger. Continue Reading →

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‘Surprise’ DNA profile linking 24,000-year-old Siberian skeleton to modern Native Americans could rewrite First Nations’ story, experts say


The surprise discovery of traces of European ancestry in the 24,000-year-old bones of a boy unearthed in the heart of Siberia has caught the attention of Canadian experts, who say the find could rewrite the story of the people who first populated ancient Canada and the rest of the Americas. A study published in the journal Nature by a team of 31 researchers from the U.S. and Europe details how the four-year-old’s skeletal remains — excavated at the Mal’ta archeological site in south-central Siberia in the 1920s and kept since then at Russia’s Hermitage State Museum — yielded a DNA signature shared by modern European populations but also by many present-day aboriginal people in the Western Hemisphere. The ancient boy’s DNA profile may help explain why a “European” strain of genetic material can be found among today’s New World indigenous communities, a mystery that many scientists had assumed was the result of contact in recent centuries with successive waves of colonizers from Europe. Another controversial theory to explain the shared DNA is based on the idea that boat-using tribes of seal-hunters from ancient Europe might have migrated westward to the Americas along a North Atlantic ice edge. But the Nature study offers another explanation: that the people who would eventually cross the so-called “Bering Land Bridge” between northeast Asia and Alaska near the end of the last ice age about 13,000 years ago had a key branch of ancestors in prehistoric Europe. Continue Reading →

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