Most gossiped about genetic news of 2017
A new year is starting, and what better way to commence this year’s blog entry than with the recounting of the most shared genetic stories on social media in 2017. This can range in a whole gamut of directions, from the absurd to serious drama to political statements to scientific information, and is an interesting reflection of how genetic topics fascinate the public. Though it is not as outrageous as the previously compiled 2016 top shared genetic stories, which perhaps signifies a tiny shift in the maturity of the audience of genetic information? And still full of fascinating gems, so here are the most gossiped about stories about anything DNA.
The top article related to DNA that I came across is sensationalized nonsense though, that was shared almost 743K times. The article actually quotes a genuine older study on fetal michrochimerism, or the retention of male offspring origin DNA in the body of their mothers for many years after pregnancy. The science publication focused on its identification even in women’s brains! But then the article liberally stretches that information to a conclusion that this type of genetic invasion, can happen to any woman who just happens to come into contact with sperm. It even goes on to compare sperm to some alien creature that burrows into the tissues of unsuspecting women. No references were provided for any of these additional claims, but obviously the article on harassing male gametes made quite an impression to be shared this much.
In a year when women’s rights are taking center stage, it is perhaps fitting that the second most widely shared article (with nearly 406K shares), is about a great Viking warrior incorrectly assumed to be a man, and after centuries it was confirmed that the celebrated fighter was in fact an axe-yielding broad (who probably had no problem having her word “NO” understood by impudent men). And since this was published by the New York Post, there is an actual scientific publication about the female Viking dignitary, to confirm the validity of this story. So this is definitely real.
Talking about stereotypical assumptions, and the fact that it took so long to confirm this despite what should have been obvious, this story of the Viking female luminary, was big enough to be repeated by another one of the most shared articles of the year, by a wildly differing source, with nearly 116K shares.
Third place with 272K shares is perhaps surprising, but perhaps not. Surprising because it was not a story, it was a sales site. Not surprising in that it was the Ancestry website, which offers one of the best-selling DNA sequencing kits in the world right now, and which had a breakout year in 2017. By the way, as of this writing, the sales link still worked. ;) Of course, I am a proponent of sequencing the entire genome rather than some traces of DNA, but for those who can’t splurge to get the real deal, this is still a great option as it slowly familiarizes the public with the still novel concept of DNA sequencing. I have some big questions about ancestry testing though, but more about that later.
With nearly 184K shares, comes one of the more dramatic genetic stories of last year, a treatment of leukemia using genetic editing therapy, offered to two children that otherwise would not have been cured! The news of genome editing was really big last year, and it offers new hope to the future of cancer treatment. In this therapy, normally the patient’s own immune cells are genetically altered to effectively fight an otherwise a very deadly cancer, but on the account of the age of the children involved, the technique required donor cells. And it worked!
Next is one of those beautiful stories that speak of adversity meeting with the kindness of the human spirit, humane enough for nearly 159K shares. It is a story of a little girl born with a genetic condition called progeria, that causes rapid aging. The outcome is very hard on the body, and due to that mysterious nature of humanity, ridicule and disparagement also accompany it from some and even many. But the little girl and her family have also found an online wave of support, in fact a tsunami of support that number in the millions of followers who like to revel in the happy life of Adalia, possible even in the hardest of circumstances if given enough nurturing and loving support. Indeed the accompanying photo essay is really fun to look through.
Well, this last type of article must have been very inspiring to its original publisher, because they produced another story on yet another child with the same genetic disease, and got nearly the same volume of shares, at 134K. This time, it was a story of a boy with progeria. Of all of the dramatic genetic diseases that could be discussed, this one sure seems to be grabbing the public’s attention! But this is a much sadder tale, as the family with the child is poor and struggling to keep their beloved child healthy. But the accompanying video suggests that the diagnosis is not confirmed, and perhaps this is a child in need of sequencing to help solidify both the diagnosis and the potential treatment.
It is really great that these stories of genetic disorders are actually gaining such publicity! There are many possible positive outcomes. Firstly, it could bring aid to the afflicted individuals from those who might be moved enough to donate to the cause. Secondly, it brings greater awareness to genetic conditions, hopefully removing the unnecessary stigma that can often be attached to such conditions. Diseases are natural events produced throughout history by random mutagenesis that are meant to exist in nature. We might hate the outcomes, but that is the reality and risk which we all bear in our entire population (as the majority of individuals are also carriers of many disease mutations). These diseases are not to be shunned and feared, but embraced and collectively taken care of by all the means at our disposal, to ease the burden upon those who were unlucky enough to be afflicted. Because they are much more common then we realize, and you never know which one of us might need a helping hand one day.
At 106K shares, there is a fun article that once again glorifies women, and in particular, redheads. And more specifically, the genetic powers that are found in redheads. The genetic mutation in the MC1R gene that gives redheads their rare but fiery look is apparently also tied to some other interesting features, enough to fill a whole book that the article promoted. So let’s start with the most sensual of these forces, that of ambergris. Just like me, you have most likely never heard of this word before. It is an aroma that is produced due to the elevated acidity of a film layer coating the skin of redheads. Huh? And that’s not all, there is also their ability of enhanced vitamin D production (with attached health benefits to this biological perk), the handling of pain better, being harder to knock out with a sedative (I bet that comes in handy often), sensing temperature changes better, and breathing underwater! Okay, that last one I made up; despite all these super powers, Ariel still isn’t real.
This topic of redheaded genetic powers, really dominated social channels, as did another reiteration (seriously nearly word-for-word, so I wonder who copied from whom), which yielded nearly 86K shares. I wonder, are we so smitten with redheads, or is it the topic of genetics?
Next in line is one of those articles that you would attribute to being written by the Ancestry website. It is one of those “my life has changed because I innocently did the ancestry DNA test” tear-jerker stories (not an actual quote from the article). I’m always nervous about the genealogy kits, as to me they are not that informative, and can even be potentially misleading. That is because their accuracy will depend on the references that these tests results are compared to, and at best, only a very broad generalization can be offered. But people sure love them! And they sure love reading about the occasional drama ensuing from using ancestry kits, in this case enough to garner nearly 98K plus social shares. That is because some of the companies offering such tests keep records of tested individuals, and indeed novel relations can be discovered. But that is a different service altogether, as opposed to trying to accurately pinpoint heritage.
To prove this public love affair with these stories, a smidgen below that last number of shares was another one in that same vein, a “shocking family relations discovery on account of DNA testing” type of story. And just to show you how divine these surprise miracles can be, this article comes from Jesus Daily. It was not my expected source of genetic news, but it is fun wild story. Surely, an army of grandmas must have contributed to the wide distribution of this melodrama. This one was about two adopted girls from different areas of China, whom ended up living practically next door to each other in the US, only to find out that they are related. That probably was not going to be much of a surprise if we are discussing DNA sequencing, but just to leave bit of a drama for you, read on to find out how shockingly related the two girls were! Good? Let’s move on.
Because the next story, with nearly 94K shares, is probably my favourite of this year. It is another rare genetic disease story, but it appears it is a disease you wish you had! It is a disease of uncombable hair syndrome. Yes, you read that right! In this particular, the disease can be attributed to mutations in one of three genes, all of which are responsible for shaping the hair follicle structure. The outcome? The follicle, instead of being nice and round, actually resembles the shape of a heart! Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up! This unruly hair disease is listed in the official Genetic and Rare Diseases Network, run by the National Institute of Health, one of the best resources you can find! The outcome is wild, stiff, and frizzy hair that looks like a character from Japanese cartoons. You just have to take a look at the photos inside the article. And to think, everywhere you go, you shed hair that actually has the shape of a heart! Now can you imagine a redhead with this genetic disease? Probably exactly who that female Viking warrior was!
This next story is actually a serious one, with potential serious consequences, so I am glad it has received so much attention (just over 90K shares). It is about a bill introduced into congress that really jeopardizes the genetic privacy rights of American citizens. This is such a bizarre turn of events from a country that was one of the first in the world to protect its citizens from genetic discrimination. It is introduced under the most ironic euphemism possible, the workplace wellness programs, a program that has been already introduced in the US to shamelessly pry into people’s private information. You will have to read it to believe it about what is already taking place, because it does not seem to make much sense (someone smarter would have to explain the reasoning to me). And if that was not enough, now they are going after the genetic information of employees. This is not a positive turn of events for the land of the free, and not surprisingly, this law has faced a mountain of criticism, from civil rights advocates to scientists and healthcare professionals.
At just over 89K shares, comes the bizarre story of fast food chains’ actual meat content in its meat as measured by DNA testing. According to the tests, Subway’s fared the worst with supposedly only 50% of its chicken meat being actually chicken. Sounds gross? Not if you were thinking of going vegetarian, as the other content was supposedly primarily soy. Of course, all of the fast food chains denied the questionable meat content claims originally put out by the CBC,which was shared nearly 51K times itself.
And the last story to conclude this year’s festival of the most shared genetic stories in 2017 is another unique genetic disease story, but with a twist one would hardly expect. I am a big fan of this one as well, as it is an artistic montage by one of my favourite arts compilation sites, Bored Panda. And it is another of these stories that teaches us to embrace genetic diseases. What better way to achieve that when the person with the genetic condition turns into a model? It is a great story for Melanie, the star of the story, but as is often seen when dealing with genetic conditions, is not without its hardships, as she recounts herself in a video below.
So great stories all around, some serious, some foolish, but definitely increasing our overall awareness of genetics and the power of the technology of DNA sequencing. There is still long way to go before the social media shares of these stories reaches really significant numbers, but you can see it is no longer trivial. So keep learning and spreading the knowledge.
Happy genome year!
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