Corporations that own your DNA

Did you know that you don’t own your DNA?  Different companies hold the patent to about 41% of your genes.  That means whenever those DNA strands are tested by a doctor, the company collects a royalty.  Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear a case that will potentially rule on whether  human DNA can be patented. [Read more...]

What “junk DNA” does

A major discovery:

It turns out that “junk DNA”, once thought to comprise most of the genetic material packed into our cells, isn’t junk. Instead, it plays a complicated — and still shadowy — role in regulating our genes.

That’s the essential insight of a five-year project to study the 98 percent of the human genome that is not, strictly speaking, genes. It now appears that more than three-quarters of our DNA is active at some point in our lives.

“This concept of ‘junk DNA’ is really not accurate. It is an outdated metaphor to explain our genome,” said Richard Myers, one of the leaders of the 400-scientist Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, nicknamed Encode.

“The genome is just alive with stuff. We just really didn’t realize that before,” said Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in England.

The new insights are contained in six papers published Wednesday in the journal Nature. More than 20 related papers from Encode are appearing elsewhere.

The human genome consists of about 3 billion DNA “letters” strung one to another in 46 chains called chromosomes. Specific stretches of those letters (whose formal name is “nucleotides”) carry the instructions for making specific proteins. Those proteins, in turn, build the cells and tissues of living organisms.

The Human Genome Project, which identified the correct linear sequence of those letters, revealed that human cells contain only about 21,000 genes — far fewer than most biologists predicted. Furthermore, those genes took up only 2 percent of the cell’s DNA. The new research helps explain how so few genes can create an organism as complex as a human being.

The answer is that regulating genes — turning them on and off, adjusting their output, manipulating their timing, coordinating their activity with other genes — is where most of the action is.

The importance and subtlety of gene regulation is not a new idea. Nor is the idea that parts of the genome once thought to be “junk” may have some use. What the Encode findings reveal is the magnitude of the regulation.

It now appears that at least 4 million sections of the genome are involved in manipulating the activity of genes. Those sections act like switches in a wiring diagram, creating an almost infinite number of circuits.

“There is a modest number of genes and an immense number of elements that choreograph how those genes are used,” said Eric D. Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the federal agency that paid for the research.

via ‘Junk DNA’ concept debunked by new analysis of human genome – The Washington Post.

So every cell of every living organism contains not just genetic information but a whole system for activating, directing, timing, and animating that information.

We sure are lucky that millions of years of random mutations and natural selection evolved into something so infinitely complex.

Oh, wait.  All of that had to be in place in order to make reproduction possible; that is, before natural selection could happen.

Testing unborn babies for 3,500 genetic disorders

Medical researchers have developed a non-invasive test that can potentially identify not just Downs but thousands of other genetic disorders.  That could mean thousands of other excuses for abortions.  And thousands of reasons for a government-run health care system to–someday–require them.

A team has been able to predict the whole genetic code of a foetus by taking a blood sample from a woman who was 18 weeks pregnant, and a swab of saliva from the father.

They believe that, in time, the test will become widely available, enabling doctors to screen unborn babies for some 3,500 genetic disorders.

At the moment the only genetic disorder routinely tested for on the NHS is Down’s syndrome.

This is a large-scale genetic defect caused by having an extra copy of a bundle of DNA, called a chromosome.

Other such faults are sometimes tested for, but usually only when there is a risk of inheriting them from a parent.

By contrast, the scientists say their new test would identify far more conditions, caused by genetic errors.However, they warned it raised “many ethical questions” because the results could be used as a basis for abortion.

These concerns were last night amplified by pro-life campaigners, who said widespread use of such a test would “inevitably lead to more abortions”. . . .

As well as testing for thousands of genetic defects, the scientists said their test could give a wealth of information on the baby’s future health.However, they warned: “The less tangible implication of incorporating this level of information into pre-natal decision-making raises many ethical questions that must be considered carefully within the scientific community and on a societal level.

“As in other areas of clinical genetics, our capacity to generate data is outstripping our ability to interpret it in ways that are useful to physicians and patients.”

Josephine Quintavalle, founder of the Pro-Life Alliance, put it more baldly.

She said: “One always hopes, vainly, that in utero testing will be for the benefit of the unborn child.

“But, whilst this new test may not itself be invasive, given our past track record, it is difficult to imagine that this new test will not lead to more abortions.”

via Unborn babies could be tested for 3,500 genetic faults – Telegraph.

HT:  Grace

Thoughts on homosexuality not being genetic

A couple of weeks ago I posted this:  Evidence homosexuality is not genetic | Cranach: The Blog of Veith.  It was a link to a discussion of how identical twins (who share the exact same genes) are not particularly likely to both be gay (something that happens in only 10% of the cases).  That would indicate that homosexuality is not genetic, or, if there is some kind of genetic component, it isn’t causative or determinative.  That post attracted more than ten times the usual traffic on this blog!  But there is more to say on the matter:

(1)  Homosexuality cannot be genetically transmitted.  Or if it is, that would strike a mortal blow against Darwinism.  You don’t have to believe that natural selection gives rise to different species to believe that natural selection is a real phenomenon.  That simply means that genes that aid survival and (more importantly) reproduction will be passed on to the next generations.  Same-sex attraction does NOT promote reproduction.  Rather, it prevents reproduction.  So that trait, if it is genetic and inheritable, would tend to die out.  And yet it hasn’t.  So it’s hard to imagine how it could be genetically determined and handed down.

(2)  Just because homosexuality isn’t genetic, that does not mean it is just a “choice.”  It might have causes that are psychological, physiological, medical, cultural, environmental, or some combination of these or other factors.  It’s too bad that the politically-correct conviction “not that there’s anything wrong with it” is inhibiting research into the causes of homosexuality.

(3)  The Lady Gaga diagnosis–”I was born this way”–has indeed helped homosexuality become broadly accepted today. This, however, may not be true.

(4)  There would seem to be no moral issue if a person can’t help his or her sexual orientation. And yet having a desire is not the same as acting on that desire (which is certainly evident in heterosexual attractions), so moral agency remains.  To be sure, our inner desires to do what is forbidden–our “concupiscence”–are sinful and testimony to our fallen condition.  Nevertheless, the will is operative.

(5) And yet, Christianity teaches that the will is in bondage to sin.  As a result, we cannot simply choose to stop sinning.  This applies to all sins and not just to homosexuality.  Sin inheres in our “flesh.”  Sin is part of our fallen condition.  In that sense, sin–including but not limited to homosexual desires– is inherited (even though, contrary to Darwin, it has no survival value).

(5)  All have sinned, including homosexuals, whose sin goes far beyond sexual transgressions, just as heterosexuals sin in more ways than in their sexuality.  And what all sinners need is grace, forgiveness, redemption, all of which is freely available from Christ, who covers their sins with His blood.   Self-righteousness, though–the conviction that “I am good as I am” and “I don’t need forgiveness”–is what keeps sinners away from Christ and all His free gifts.

Can you think of any other corollaries?

And I’m curious about this, from you Lutheran theologians.  It seems that Lutheranism has a view of sin and of human anthropology that is very realistic, though different from that of other theologies with a higher view of the will and a lower view of sin.  Does Lutheran theology throw any distinct light on this issue?

 

Evidence homosexuality is not genetic

Wheaton provost Stanton L. Jones corrects an article in the New York Times and cites evidence that homosexuality is not genetic after all:  Identical twins, who have exactly the same genes, are not very likely (contrary to some reports) to both be gay.

Frank Bruni, in his essay “Genetic or Not, Gay Will Not Go Away“(New York Times, January 28, 2012), makes a broad point regarding which I am in complete agreement: Our societal, legal, and cultural debates will not be solved by science. But when you do cite the science, you ought to get it right. . . .

In support of the argument that at least sometimes sexual orientation is a condition of birth, Bruni describes how “One landmark study looked at gay men’s brothers and found that 52% of identical twin brothers were also gay.” This brief explanation both fails as a description of that 20+ year old study and fails to reflect the better research published since.

Bruni gets the number right; the 1990 landmark study by Bailey and Pillard reported a 52% “probandwise concordance” for homosexual orientation among genetically identical sibling groups, but this does not mean what Bruni says it means. A proband wise concordance is a technical calculation, one that in this case results from the following actual results: There were 41 genetically identical sibling groups (40 identical twin pairs and one triplet trio) and of these 41 groups, only in 14 of the groups did the genetically identical brothers match for sexual orientation; in the remaining 27 sets the identical twin brothers did not match.

But this 1990 study was actually based on a sample that was apparently distorted by volunteer bias and hence not representative of homosexual persons in general. Bailey’s own study of a decade later, and the recently published “gold standard” study by Långström et. al. of the Swedish Twin Registry, both found even lower matching among identical twins with much larger and more representative samples. Both studies reported about 10% matching (for Långström, 7 identical twin pairs matched with both identical brothers gay out of 71 total pairs of male identical twin pairs).

So in plain English, the best contemporary scientific findings are that when one identical twin brother is gay, the probabilities of the second twin being gay are approximately 10%. This suggests that the contribution of genetics to the determination of homosexual orientation is modest at best.

via The Genetics of Same-Sex Attraction » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

10,000 Adams and Eves

Thus far the main controversy between Christianity and mainline scientists has been over evolution.  Many Christians have tried to resolve that dilemma by embracing “theistic evolution,” the notion that God did create every living thing, but that He used evolution to do it.  (Never mind that Darwin’s theory of evolution specifically insists on the randomness of mutations and of natural selection.  Believing that evolution is directed is beyond the pale of actual Darwinism and is just another form of Intelligent Design, despite what the theistic evolutionists claim.)  Anyway, theistic evolutionists often still affirmed the historical existence of some kind of Adam and Eve, the first humans however they evolved, who, in some way, fell from their paradisal state and transmitted original sin to their descendants, who were redeemed by Christ, the Second Adam.

But now a new front in the battle has opened up, which, according to Christianity Today, is raising new questions and opening up a new level of controversy.  According to recent genetic evidence, the human race did not begin with two people.  Rather, it must have begun with a population of around 10,000.  Otherwise, according to the geneticists, there is no way to account for the genetic diversity that we can currently observe.  See The Search for the Historical Adam | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

It’s hard to imagine how 10,000 creatures could, at the same, evolve into the same species.  I can’t help but wonder where they came from.  Who were their parents?  (Can anyone explain how the geneticists answer that?)

An accompanying editorial in Christianity Today says that without an historical Adam and Eve, the whole Gospel comes apart, since there would be no original sin and no “Second Adam” who could redeem us.  Does that take it too far?   Could “Adam,” which means literally “man,” refer to human beings in a collective way, all of whom have re-enacted the Fall in their own lives,whereupon Christ, in His Incarnation, did indeed become “man” and thus “Adam,” to redeem the human race.  Some are arguing that a story can be true in its meaning, even if it does not recount literal historical events.  Should Christians be seeking an interpretation like that?  Or reject the genetic findings?  Or just not jump to conclusions, since scientific findings are never complete and are themselves always being re-interpreted?

At any rate, I suppose this evidence should bother me or shake my faith in the Bible, but, strangely, it does not.  How about you?


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