Most gossiped about genetic news of 2020
At every start of the year, we poke around buzzsumo.com to see what are the most shared online articles related to anything tied to DNA. And we rank the top 10 from available data. This year, on our fifth anniversary of this series, we did it a bit differently because certain events took so much notice that many different articles on the same topic were produced so we kept that in mind as we produced this top 10 list of unique stories.
Some of these are sad but the majority of the stories are uplifting. They span topics of racism, infidelity, a celebration of female scientists, surprise DNA test result encounters and of course, COVID-19. And 2020 was also a year of rare white animals! Like angels in disguise, the public clung onto those stories for a reprieve from the constant barrage of pandemic-related news.
Trump always wants to be on top? Not always the best sight!
Top of the list with two articles dedicated to same wacky content for a combined tally of 3.6 million shares is a controversy surrounding Trump! What else would we expect in relation to Trump though? Now that he is President no more, the media will have a hard time as he was such an easy target it seemed for any smear campaign. This example, where Trump was mercilessly ridiculed for retweeting a (now heavily censored) video of a doctor who was found to espouse some very unorthodox ideas. Trump, you just make it so easy sometimes, we think you like this attention!
The video featured a group calling themselves America’s Frontline Doctors, who oppose the medical consensus on the treatment of COVID-19 (especially the use of hydroxychloroquine). However, the doctor a pediatrician (and a religious minister!), Stella Immanuel, apparently has previously mentioned that gynecological problems like cysts, endometriosis, infertility and impotence can be due to having sex with witches and demons in your dreams. Wow, we like this! We would love to see how this hypothesis could be tested (remember, at the moment it is not unproven!) She apparently also believes alien DNA is used in current medical treatments and that powers that be are making vaccines to make us all less religious (we presume it is the new mRNA vaccines that just hit the market. So, don’t say you haven’t been properly warned).
There is a whole lot more, but we will leave this for now and you can dig further to enjoy.
The magical powers of censors (beware censors, sarcasm ahead!)
2020 was definitely a year of censorship like we haven’t seen the McCarthy era! In second place with 2.3 million shares was a YouTube video of an interview with a French Nobel prize-winning scientist Luc Montagnier, where he apparently stated,“the virus has come out of a laboratory in Wuhan, which has been specialising in these types of coronaviruses since the beginning of the 2000s”. You would not be able to easily judge for yourself as “powers that be” have decided that certain content is not safe to be judged by our very impressionable minds. Perhaps Dr. Montagnier fell victim to a prior (and now discredited) preprint from India that attempted to point out some unusual similarities with HIV virus, which we have previously discussed. COVID-19 is definitely a touchy, touchy topic to the censors. We are just glad they have the power to make all the right instant decisions of how any commentary should be assumed as infallible wrong or definitely true, since we feel that science in general is full of inaccurate information (hence you need repetition upon repetition before making some form of a consensus ).
When the pandemic was still young
In third place was the COVID-19 news we still are allowed to read, about finding that the infamous cruise ship Diamond Princess that turned out to be a floating SARS-CoV-2 petri-dish (for a brief moment, it was the largest cluster of COVID-19 infections outside of China) was replete with the virus all over it for days on end. This was still so early in the pandemic with so much unknown about the virus, its infectivity and its deadly potential that people were likely seeing any credible information about what could be expected from this virus, we are not surprised that this article is on top of the list. This was also so early in the pandemic that it was far beyond our wildest imagination that in less than a year more than 2 million lives would be attributed to COVID-19 with nearly 100 million infected worldwide (and currently still no end in sight with new SARS-CoV-2 strains emerging but we hope vaccines or herd immunity will do the trick to stop exposing the most vulnerable). At the time we would also never have imagined that vaccine passports could ever become real and that our world would be divided into pre-pandemic and post-pandemic due to such a staggering impact on our lives.
Racism being stomped out
The fourth place, with 922K shares, belonged to one of the saddest story we will discuss dedicated to the controversy surrounding the disturbing and racist comments of the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Toronto, Yusra Khogali. Basically, we are talking about the use of a type of language that has been frequently used in the past against blacks and other ethnicities to incite racism against them but instead it was being used in reverse against white people. Racism has been used in the past to justify committing horrible crimes against humanity, with excessive measures that produced extraordinary human suffering. Our goal as humans here should be to promote the elimination of such crimes and behaviour amongst the entirety of humanity and this could include exposing past perpetrators and making sure that racist crimes are not repeated in the future. We hope the reason this controversy got so much attention is due to the condemnation of such racism in general, and not because it received any agreement or support.
One benefit was that the story opened up opportunities to discuss racism on a broader spectrum, including recounting the oft ignored history of those who have been persecuted in the past - which is apparently what Khogali wanted to achieve. We do indeed want that, as we need to understand the scale of past injustices to understand how not to descend to such chaos again in the future. We also hope that racist behaviour was not used to bring awareness to racism, or that decrying of racist rhetoric was used for racist purposes, as none of that makes any sense.
But let’s explore this topic from a fun angle. One of the controversial comments attributed to Khogali is "white people are a genetic defect of blackness." Okay, that’s a bit much, but white people are descendants of black people. Mutations (not defects) in the DNA have occurred to drive changes that also resulted in different pigmentation. But that is not a defect, that is adaptation to a new and different environment after humans migrated out of Africa. Humanity should be proud of its roots, which are in Africa, but our subsequent adaptations should never be seen as defects. Genetic forces are very complex. Sometimes, what might appear as a defect is also there to counter other environmental forces. Many diseases exist for that very reason. Sickle cell anemia is one of them, which protects from malaria. Rather, we should be focusing on the far more valuable message that we are all related, and how fascinating that evolution can be to bring so much diversity into this world.
Guilty until proven innocent
In the fifth place at 547K is another of those sad stories of a man proven innocent on account of DNA testing after spending years in prison. What is particularly sad in this story, that the victim of the justice system, Rafael Ruiz, spent 25 years behind bars for a rape crime he never committed. He refused to plead guilty to obtain a short sentence and as a consequence ended up serving full term. Makes you wonder how many such innocents are populating our prisons, and how often such cases are representative of minorities, as was Ruiz. His prior crime to this unjust conviction was being charged with a misdemeanor for writing “Merry Christmas” in the subway. That clearly should have been a clue you had the wrong man! If you read the account posted by the Innocence Project, the organization that helped to produce the evidence to exonerate Ruiz, it makes you wonder how the person could have been put in prison for most of his life on such flimsy evidence.
This is not the first time we have covered such story, with last year’s installment of the most gossiped about genetic news also recounting a story where once again the Innocence Project helped to prove man’s innocence, so good on them to help bring some awareness to these human tragedies.
Cute puppy, cute mutation
The sixth place enters our first animal story about a golden retriever with a birth mark that resulted in a big black patch on its face. This story garnered 402K shares before another story stole the spot. The article mentions it as being “caused by a disorder called pigmented somatic cell mutation” although we would not necessarily say disorder. Somatic mutations (mutations that occur post fertilization) can lead to what is referred to as mosaicism, where segments of an organ(s) has a mutation that is not present elsewhere in same organ(s) or the rest of the body. We recently wrote about this topic and it is a very frequent phenomenon. It can lead to diseases but often is harmless in its presentation, as likely is in the case of this puppy. In the case of this puppy, a mutation reversed part of its skin from having a working gene that converts the fur coat color from black to golden. If you are a dog lover, this is definitely for you! Suspiciously, the dog also looks very white otherwise! You’ll see what that means soon. To save you a trip to another link here is the picture of the puppy. If you are gushing over it, click further!
DNA test to prove paternity? Be careful!
In seventh place is one of those human drama stories where a paternity DNA test was used for a man to either discover or confirm his suspicion that a beautiful mother of his child was unfaithful. On the surface, this is another sad story though because the conclusion here is, get out of my life, and it is meant to shame the woman for what we assume was cheating and lying. Here is the video so you can watch it for yourself and judge if this is fair reaction or not.
However, before you get too emotional… apparently the video is fake! Obvious set up. Obvious headline (clickbait). There is no screenshot of the “test”. There is oh so obvious scripting… and there is this!
Yeah, she has numerous video jokes but this one was uploaded to Worldstarhiphop.com and made big!
But jokes aside, there is always a possibility that a paternity test will yield wrong results. How? To answer that question, you have to look no further than the puppy story above: genetic mosaicism! In fact, we cover one such unusual incident in a 2016 installment of the most gossiped about genetic news, where the mother of a child happened to be a composition of two different genomes. In such instance, depending on what organ or tissue is being tested, there can be conflicting paternity results. Next time before you lose a child and a mother, we recommend testing another tissue source! Considering that the article was shared 350K times, and how many likes the video has received, we could surmise that many agree that this woman deserved a public shaming, but the possibility that an accused is innocent is still there! We wonder how many of those promoting this story were actually women versus men.
Another potential problem with this story is illegal testing, depending whose sample is submitted. The real kicker of the story is that it comes as a total surprise to the woman. For example, you cannot submit another parent’s sample without their consent. Taking and submitting someone else’s sample, such as saliva, for testing is stealing. That is illegal, and no one is allowed to test the genetics of others unless they are a legal guardian or have obtained consent. If you ever get surprised like that, you can sue the person trying to blackmail you in such manner. We are certain that eventually we will hear of such legal story.
A year of female scientists!
The eighth most shared story of the year was for a first of its kind when a Nobel prize was awarded to two female scientists without the accompaniment of a male scientist as a prize co-recipient. Adding to this the accomplishment was that the Nobel prize is for the most powerful genetic technology ever presented (the ability to mutate DNA code anywhere we want). We were almost nervous that this huge story might not make the top list as it definitely deserves a mention! This was an immensely powerful combination showcasing women in a leadership role. Together, the top stories were shared 575K times before a new competing story emerged. At the time of the award, Merogenomics discussed it in its newsletter: “[recently history] was made when a female duo genetic researchers received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their ‘development of a method for genome editing’ using the famed CRISPR method: Drs. Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. […] This certainly starts to demonstrate the change of the times in deserved recognition for women in sciences who have in the past been glaringly ignored.” Merogenomics was very happy to see both the award (as the topic of CRISPR technology is a frequent visitor in blog posts), as well as how much attention this event has gotten. "Once in a long time, an advance comes along that utterly transforms an entire field and does so very rapidly," was a quote from Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in reference to how revolutionary the CRISPR genetic technology is. It is expected to be used to help treat and potentially eradicate some of the diseases that are plaguing humanity. One way to measure its revolutionary impact is that the first CRISPR scientific publication in 2012 has been cited more than 6000 times. Apparently, since 1970 about 50 million scientific papers have been published and only about 700 papers have received that many citations, according to one of the articles.
One of the important messages that both women remind us of, is the importance of the humane use of such a powerful technology, and also to be extremely vigilant about deviating from strong ethics in the utility of CRISPR. After all, it has already purportedly been used to develop the world’s first designer babies. Along the way, we have to be careful what we add or remove from a genome due to unintended consequences based, at very least, on what we just mentioned above that diseases can also have hidden protective roles against other environmental threats.
Cute moose, cute mutation
In the ninenth place, with 326K shares, is an article that definitely deserves top prize for a best title: “I'm dreaming of a white Christ-MOOSE”. It is the story of a rare white moose that appear to inhabit counties with arctic connections. This particular star of the show stems from Sweden. Apparently, the unique white look is not due to albinism but rather a genetic condition known as piebaldism. In this case, the pigment is lost only in fur. In albinism all the pigment cells in the whole body are affected. The article is otherwise a montage of amazing photographs taken by nature photographer Roger Brendhagen. If you like nature photography, prepare to be blown away by this guy!
In the last place, with 305K shares was a horrific story of an assault on a woman by her husband after discovering that his three children were not his biological children with gory photos included. Luckily the link that received this much circulation no longer works so we do not have to take you there, but in light of the prank video we just discussed above, this is just a sad story that we should never have to encounter. No one deserves violence at the hands of others.
Another year, another fun collection of genetics related stories that were most shared the previous year. We enjoy looking at these once a year as much as we enjoy poking around science. Science discoveries rarely visit this content, unless it is content that can exploit human emotions. It is good to know what we are collectively learning about with regards to genetics.
If you liked this collection of stories, check out our previous years:
This article has been produced by Merogenomics Inc. and edited by Jason Chouinard, B.Sc. Reproduction and reuse of any portion of this content requires Merogenomics Inc. permission and source acknowledgment. It is your responsibility to obtain additional permissions from the third party owners that might be cited by Merogenomics Inc. Merogenomics Inc. disclaims any responsibility for any use you make of content owned by third parties without their permission.
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