As fun as it is to find out where your great-great-great grandparents came from, the real promise of genetic testing is in the realm of disease. By screening for the genetic markers associated with hereditary disease, people can make proactive, potentially even life-saving decisions about their health. That is, as long as the tests are accurate.
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In the classic 1966 American science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, a submarine crew was miniaturised and injected into a body to fix a blood clot in the brain. That obviously isn't how future medical science is going to work, but the notion of creating microscopic machines to perform complex tasks is certainly on point. A recent advance, in which robots made from DNA were programmed to sort and deliver molecules to a specified location, now represents an important step in this futuristic direction.
Yesterday, Copenhagen police confirmed that a torso found by a cyclist was a DNA match for the missing journalist Kim Wall. Wall had been missing since August 10 and was last seen on board the DIY submarine built by eccentric inventor Peter Madsen. Earlier this week, Madsen admitted to police that Wall had died in an "accident" on his submarine before it sank.
What's a strand of DNA but data? We often think of its units, the As, Cs, Ts, and Gs, as letters of the words in an instruction manual. But what if, instead, we think of them as biological computer bits, storing the smallest unit of information? What stops scientists from harnessing the power of those units, using the latest biological technology to treat DNA like a writable disk?
A Spanish judge just ordered the body of Salvador Dalí to be exhumed for a paternity test. The order comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by a woman named Pilar Abel, a tarot card reader who claims to be Dalí's illegitimate daughter. In court, Abel claimed that her mother was working near the Dalí family's holiday home in the 1950s and that the two "had a friendship that developed into clandestine love". Now, Abel wants to be recognised as the surrealist's rightful heir.
As companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com help make genetic testing commonplace, you would think that people would become better at ensuring protections for the privacy of that data. Instead, multiple Congressional actions in the US threaten to erode already-weak protections against genetic discrimination. But it isn't just a dystopian Gattaca future where citizens are discriminated against based on their genes that we need to be worried about — one researcher is concerned that our inadequate genetic privacy laws will stymie science.
Embedded in our genetic code is all kinds of sensitive data that could be compromising in the wrong hands. Without genetic privacy protections, the information stored in our genes might be used to discriminate against us or send us targeted ads. For these reasons, some have said we should skip out on consumer DNA tests if we value our privacy. Last week, after the FDA gave DNA testing company 23andMe the greenlight to offer consumers disease risk assessments, there was a new wave of warnings.
Millions of years ago, our ancestors' bodies may have waged an epic battle against a virus. Through a sneaky DNA swap, the hosts would have gotten the upper hand, and turned the virus' defences against themselves. Researchers think they have unearthed the whole ordeal, left like a Dead Sea scroll in our genes.
At times, DNA testing can feel more like horoscopes than science. In many cases, we just don't know enough about a gene to say what it means for our health. For this reason, the US Food and Drug Administration has sought to protect consumers by preventing DNA testing companies from telling them whether or not they're are at risk for a certain disease. Until now.
Nearly a decade ago, Dallas police proposed a new program designed to get sex workers off the streets. Rather than just send them to gaol, police would set up shop at truck stops, accompanied by counsellors, social workers and nurses, and give the sex workers a choice of either prison or talking to a counsellor. But the program also had a grimmer, more ethically fraught component — collecting sex workers' DNA in hopes of identifying their bodies should they wind up dead.
While we all want to travel, live and bang in space, there are some pretty major things to consider, such as the fact that our sentient flesh cocoons were not designed to handle the harsh conditions of the cosmic void. Though research like NASA's Twin Study will illuminate some of the potential impacts of extended spaceflight on our bodies, so many mysteries remain — particularly when it comes to what's going to happen to our DNA.
Diagnosing disease often requires analysing and detecting single cells with lab tests that cost hundreds of dollars each. Hospitals in a poor country stricken with a disease epidemic like HIV or malaria simply might not have the funds to run all of those tests. Scientists are looking for a cheaper option.