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Most gossiped about genetic news of 2019

Most gossiped about genetic news of 2019

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What we shared the most: immigration and… redheads strike back!

It is that time of the year again where we continue our tradition of looking at some of the most frequently shared articles on social media relating to DNA and genetics. It is now four years in a row that we have been doing this segment so if you want to review you can see the most shared DNA content articles of 2018 and the most shared articles with genetics info in 2017.

These vignettes are in stark contrast to the typical information shared on the Merogenomics blog which is carefully vetted for scientific accuracy - but just as entertaining to read. Also unlike the typical content of the Merogenomics blog, the content produced for social media’s viral output can at times be absolutely outrageous! We do not check for the authenticity of their claims, and we purposefully want to show what kind of information grabbed the most attention, no matter how ridiculous it may be. How do we look for it? We simply checked in on a few of our favourite keywords . You know, DNA this, genetics that.

In first place for 2019, with 1.1 million shares was a serious piece from UK's Daily Mail on DNA testing performed at the US border on incoming immigrants, showing that a third of those tested were not actually biologically related to the children proclaimed to be their children! This immediately strikes us with a couple of concerns! First, how is it even legal to forcibly collect a DNA sample from someone? That should never be allowed without consent, under no circumstance but with the exception of perhaps of some seriously egregious criminal offences, or saving a life when consent cannot be obtained. Second, where were the actual parents of those children? Are parents just sending off their children to the US with other people instead of themselves? At such a high percentage of the immigrants? Seems really weird.

Image of Merogenomics article quote on obtaining DNA and consent

In second place is more a familiar story that has made the top list for three years in a row, and it is still going strong, coming in with 751K shares! This is content recycling at its best! We are talking about the genetic powers of redheads and we steer you to last year’s content for the details.

Over the years this topic has harnessed unprecedented attention, by now totaling over 3.5 million shares! Redheads must be the most genetically educated of the bunch by now! That means they should totally be ready for some DNA tests purchased through Merogenomics!


Amelia, you’re breaking my heart!

The next story, coming in at 365K social media shares, is very interesting albeit with a somewhat disappointing ending (haven't we heard that before). The topic of the story is Amelia Earhart, an amazing woman who was showcasing the type of achievements that we all have now come to expect and depend on, but in the early 20th century they were still seen as radical and spell-binding. Amelia was one of the earliest known female pilots and had gained fame when, in 1928, she became the first woman ever to fly over the Atlantic.

A decade later, she was attempting to circumnavigate the globe when she disappeared over the Pacific ocean, presumed to have crashed after running out of fuel. Apparently, a set of bones have been recovered near the last known radio contact, long rumored to be those of Amelia, and DNA testing is expected to be done hoping to confirm the identity.

So it is maybe a story which feels somewhat unfulfilling. Not that we should be surprised from the title of the piece but when can we know the results of analysis? It does not need to take too long to isolate DNA, even from older bone specimen. But learning about this amazing lady was super fulfilling, a type of role model that dads should be teaching their kids about.


Virus be gone!

In fourth place, at 282K shares is another serious Daily Mail article on the HIV virus being completely excised from a mouse genome. The reason why HIV is at the moment essentially incurable is because the virus that infects us basically inserts itself into our own DNA, and to add insult to the injury, it inserts itself in the DNA of our T-cells - the cells that are actually supposed to be responsible for fighting such viral infections. So instead of being a grim reaper that spells the end of HIV infection, the T-cells become a flock of storks that deliver newly produced viruses ... and then die in the process! So the tables are turned, and the HIV virus becomes the grim reaper to T-cells instead!

Image of Merogenomics article quote on HIV virus

This basically means that it is essentially impossible to cure an HIV infection unless you could somehow come up with a magical way to remove all of the HIV genetic material that is present inside the DNA of T-cells.

And that is what the article is about: a demonstration of that new magical method in mice. It involves CRISPR/Cas9 genetic editing technology

, the miracle tool that allows direct genetic editing to any site of DNA we want. But the article also involves some very clever drugs used for keeping HIV at bay so that infected people can have an essentially normal life: anti-viral drugs that are packaged inside nanoparticles, or tiny balls made up of fat molecules. The body sees these as foreign invaders and delivers them to... ha! T-cells where the virus resides! So the anti-viral drug is delivered exactly where is needed! This ensures that the virus is held in check and the genetic editing process can be accomplished. The reason why this was such exciting news was because it brings closer the possibility that HIV infections could one day be cured.


Vaccines are made up of fetuses and other nonsense!

Next in place is the most scientifically ignorant content of this year, designed, either deliberately or through lack of scientific background, to promote shock and fear around vaccines. What kind of fear? That vaccines are purposefully laden with cells of “murdered” fetuses in order to introduce cancer, depression and anxiety into our society through purposefully manipulated genetic material. Cancer because mutated genes are introduced to cause cancer. Depression because in the process of murdering the fetus, this was imprinted in its material and now passed on to everyone, affecting our mental health. Yeah. We would suspect it is videos like this that cause depression than any residual cell culture components you might stumble upon. Not that vaccines might not be dangerous, in fact they are to certain percentage of the population - there is no denying that. Any medical product can be but the proper way to inform about this danger is by studying the frequency of negative outcomes and who is susceptible to the dangers, if known. And are they right about the fetal cells? Actually yes! But these are cell lines that have been isolated from a given tissue and propagated for decades (some for more than 50 years now!) so that we have actual human cell cultures in test tubes that can be assessed for viral infections (excellent starting point if you want to learn your historical background), and how we can counteract these infection. There is a gamut of reasons why such cell lines are used: they are established as the safest for viral infection studies; they have the broadest range of what they can be infected with; they have the longest lifespan; and they can be preserved cryogenically without impact (as such they exist more than half a century later). By now, we have a body of evidence spanning decades in understanding how these cell lines behave molecularly in response to different insults, including viruses, as well their safe use in vaccines.

Can residual amounts of DNA from these cells get into vaccines? Of course yes, hence they are included in the labels. It is similar to statements on food packaging that traces of nuts could be found. Indeed scientific discussions have taken place about this possible contamination, but no evidence of harm has ever been established. Despite human limitations, the scientific world prides itself on its standard of ethics to protect from harm.

Then what about those cancer claims? Here is where the lack of scientific understanding that comes to light. The evidence used here is not a scientific publication at all (which the viewer might be led to believe) but rather a report slapped together by an anti-vaccination group from Italy (also the publisher of the video) that has an illusion of a scientific report, but it is not. Claims are made that a fetal human genome was sequenced inside a vaccine, but… whatever was sequenced, was sequenced at a read depth of less than one (meaning that each DNA read was decoded once or less)! That is as random as it gets. The minimum you need to start getting accepted statistical accuracy is 8. Their claims for the mutated status of that genome basically is garbage as it could not be measured with any accuracy. There is also no comparison to a commercially available fetal cell line that is same as the one used in vaccines to show that it is indeed the human genome found in the vaccine. For all you know, what they were decoding was someone’s contamination. The report claims it compared the mitochondrial genomes and came to conclusion it is same individual “since there is no genetic variant”. Which by the way makes no sense, but at this point, we’ll just shrug our shoulders.

Image of Merogenomics article quote on DNA sequencing accuracy

So no murdering of unborn babies took place on some sterile altar, if you were wondering how you got your vaccine. But if you are against abortions, then indeed, you might not be completely happy with the source of these cells as some of the original literature does not state the actual source of the fetal cells, whether through miscarriage or abortion, and some definitely have been obtained from aborted fetus. We checked.

Unfortunately this video based on gross assumptions was distributed enough to harness 219K shares. We really hope that Merogenomics is doing our part to cancel out this ignorance with informative articles - so check us out on social media, and share with your friends! We want debates, including vaccine safety! Of course we applaud that! But we also like scientific evidence, and lots of it, as science often gets it wrong because doing science accurately is very difficult.

The next entry is the most surprising one that we would not have expected to see - a review of an old and bizarre horror musical from 2008 about evil genetic company that makes custom-made transplant organs. But if you fail to complete your payment, your organs are repossessed and it’s all showcased in gory details! While genetics is not really the focus of this story, the movie was really forward-looking in terms of future technology, as at the time in 2008, genetic editing technology like CRISPR did not even exist yet, and next-generation sequencing had barely entered the market so human genome sequencing was still an exceedingly rare event, while tissue engineering was still years off from where it is now, and all these technologies would likely be needed when engineering your favorite replacement body parts. Which we are still years away from, but then again the movie does take place more than three decades from now, so it is not unreasonable to fantasize that made-to-order organs will be a reality (as opposed to organ Repo-men, we sincerely hope).


Papa don’t preach

Our next installment involves political controversy (in case the very first article description in this post was not enough) as DNA technology is out-manoeuvring politicians’ abilities to keep up with an understanding of the power of genetic investigations when they make public claims. Last year was Senator Elizabeth Warren with her self-proclaimed indigenous heritage. This year, coming in at just over 190K is a Business Insider piece on how Hunter Biden, the controversy-stirring son of current presidential candidate Joe Biden, has fathered a child with a different woman than the one he was dating (which by the way, happened to be... his brother's widow)! Oh, and since then, he married another woman! This guy sure has some high-quality comforting skills! Furthermore, Hunter attempted to disclaim his paternal connection until forced by court order to participate in a DNA test. And those are pretty hard to contest.

Image of Merogenomics article quote on DNA technology

By the way, we do not care who has babies with whom. It is none of our business how people structure their intimate relationships - we only hope that every child born has access to opportunities that will allow them attempt to reach their full potential in making the world a better place. We will assume Hunter has loads of cash and we will also assume Hunter will dearly love his children (since most parents do) so hopefully his children will do very well - irrespective of with whom he is combining his DNA. Coolest information: The Biden family are protected by the US Secret Service, which means the child would also be under such protection!

Although, prudent as we are, we have to hope he screened his partner(s) for carrier status! :)


What defines a woman? Modern day sports can’t figure it out

The controversy continues with the next installment from a Washington Post piece on a provocative ruling forcing female Olympic medalist Caster Semenya to suppress her testosterone levels if she wants to continue her sports career competing among women. At 147K, this article captured some needed attention. The catchy comparison to the unusual build and genetics of Michael Phelps that have given him a competitive advantage made this read even more stirring.

The article does mention that Caster Semenya could be an intersex individual, a term defined by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as individuals who "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies". While she clearly identified as a woman, it could also mean being both male and female, or neither!


Image of Merogenomics article quote on intersex definition

And that is whole lot different than a person with a clearly defined gender and enhanced athletic powers! But... are other excelling female athletes subject to sex verification? Because Semenya was! That is where the rumours of intersex stem from apparently! Because no official statement was published. And for clarification, Semenya is not transgender of which she also has been accused. If she was, we definitely would have a different understanding of this situation but she is simply an anomaly of an amazing female athlete, just like Michael Phelps was among his male peers.

Ultimately, we feel that the decision made was the dumbest of all. Will all women be now subjected to hormone levels measurements? No! Are all women subjugated to gender verification exam? No! So why is Semenya harassed because of her enhanced athletic powers? That's why we have these competitions: to find unique talent! If a woman of exceptional gifts comes and wipes out the competition in that generation, too bad so sad. So unless we now use testosterone levels to define gender, and subject all athletes to such test, then this ruling targeting one specific individual makes no sense.

And if it is a matter of not knowing what to do with intersex athletes, then since we never worry about men being outcompeted by intersex individuals, and therefore we do not subjugate male athletes to humiliating rituals of determining ones level of being male, we should also not do it to women. Seriously? Sex exam? Maybe we should just decide if we should also have a category for intersex people? After all, supposedly nearly one in five people could be intersex (we do not know where UN gets theirs stats from). Maybe that would be a cool way to showcase how diverse we truly can be biologically, far beyond the two genders we think of (or are forced to pretend to be). 


Image of Merogenomics article quote on intersex people

It reminds us of a case of the Polish-American Olympic champion, Stanislawa Walasiewicz, who identified herself entire life as a woman, but was a composition of more then one genotype in her body, one which included XY (male) and one which was just one X (female Turner syndrome). And remember, it is not like it is some official proclamation that Semenya is intersex. It is just based on the fact that her feminine traits are not as typical of what we assume they should be. Yeah, weird episode, but amazing genetics!

Nearly at same level of shares, at nearly 142K, was yet another Business Insider piece on Bill Gates’ opinion on genetic editing and the first ever created designer babies from China. Gates added to the condemnation of this experiment on human beings as well as that we need much more prolific discussions on the ethics behind this technology before we keep on using genetic editing . Our favorite part was discovering that the book "The Gene" which we reviewed, is one of his favorites.


Trust DNA over memory

The final installment is an interesting one of a convicted man's case being overturned on account of DNA evidence. We are sure you have heard of this before but what is interesting about this case is that the person was convicted based on selection by nearly all the witnesses involved with the case. The accused, Lydell Grant, always maintained his innocence. For whatever reason, at the time of the first trial, DNA evidence was not used and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Years later his case was picked up by non-profit group Innocence Project of Texas, and they had the DNA isolated from fingernails of the victim tested to show that it did not include that of Grant, but rather of another individual. Since then that individual has been apprehended and admitted to the crime nearly a decade after committing the murder!

This shows you how easily our memories can be skewed and how easily we can be mistaken. This also shows how inappropriate witness testimony could be in conviction of a person and that our justice system still needs further development in order to minimize convicting innocent people. Makes you wonder how many innocent people are actually put behind bars or put to death. At almost 138K, this case puts a tiny dent in our society having an opportunity to think about this.

With all of this information, we hope you got incentivized to look at your DNA (but without any editing of it). This year's selection of articles showcases how our DNA can be abused but also how it can be used for great benefit. Chief among them is analyzing DNA for health monitoring, a type of service that Merogenomics can definitely help you with to gain access to some of the best DNA tests available on the market. Another fun benefit (although requiring dedicated research) would be to use DNA information to learn new super capabilities such as those of Semenya or Phelps.

In the upcoming age of genetic medicine, we need all the knowledge we can get.


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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