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 Post subject: Genome
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2011 8:32 am 
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Would you like to know your's? For me - yes, I'd [although today it's just too expensive]...

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 Post subject: Re: Genome
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2011 9:02 am 
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It would be fun to have it, but, right now, our biology is so complex, and our knowledge of it is so small, that it's extremely unlikely that knowing one's genomic sequence would provide a practical benefit, outside of resolving questions of ancestry or identifying risks from a handful of particular genes.

For genes that are unequivocally linked to certain medical conditions, you can already get the appropriate genetic tests performed much more cheaply than sequencing a whole genome, and there is a good chance you'd already be aware of serious risks anyway, since they most likely would be common among your ancestors. Almost everything else is either too preliminary, too speculative, incorrect, too subtle, or too complicated to unravel...closer to being a horoscope than a diagnosis.

In some medical/ethical/government circles, there is active debate over whether it even should be legal for individuals to have their own genomes sequenced. The idea is that since the practical benefit is so unclear, yet the opportunity for misleading people and selling them things that would have no benefit is so large, that people would need to be protected from their own information, and that it should only be obtained and reviewed in close consultation with a physician or a trained genetic counselor. (I strongly disagree with that - people should have access to whatever information about themselves is practical to obtain as a matter of right, even if the information is of questionable practical value. Personally, I think that "medical ethicists" and "bioethicists" are among the biggest charlatans out there, and the ones I've actually met have only reinforced that assessment.)

We are probably not many years away at all from being able to get at least a draft of a personal genome for just a few hundred dollars or euros. I'd be very surprised if it takes more than ten years; I suspect it will be closer to five years.


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 Post subject: Re: Genome
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2011 9:25 am 
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josehill wrote:
The idea is that since the practical benefit is so unclear

It's questionable whether its a benefit, but it is clear it could immensely affect natural selection.

As much as I like science and knowledge, genetics IMO will inevitably lead to another √úbermenschen project.

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 Post subject: Re: Genome
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2011 9:38 am 
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I am ignorant about this subject, but is it conceivable that at some future point in time we will be able to reconstruct organisms based on their genome? If so, would storing your genome result in the potential of being recreated at some future point in time?

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 Post subject: Re: Genome
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2011 10:06 am 
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At some point that could be possible, but far away in the future. The DNA sequence is just one thing, but there are a lot of epigenetic modifications that are also essential for a living organism. If you sequence a genome, and then you comment the sequence with all the modifications it has in every position, and then you reconstruct that DNA-protein mess with some short of incredible machine and finally you put that inside of an empty nucleus of some stem cell to create an embryo... how knows X__D.

About my own genome, well, it would be funny to have the sequence, that is for sure :D. That kind of job is now an "easy" task but still not available for private customers. Anyway, we still do not know how to properly read a DNA sequence. You could check the most common mutations causing diseases, but not much more.

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 Post subject: Re: Genome
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2011 11:03 am 
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sgifanatic wrote:
is it conceivable that at some future point in time we will be able to reconstruct organisms based on their genome? If so, would storing your genome result in the potential of being recreated at some future point in time?


In addition to [[C|-|E]]'s remark about epigenetic modifications, there are many more layers of extreme complexity that go far beyond what is encoded in a genome sequence. First, a practical example of the epigenetic stuff: our DNA sequences are made from a four letter chemical alphabet, GCAT. It is very common for the "C" to be chemically modified in a reversible way by the addition of a "methyl" group, which is a carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. Sometimes this modification seems to be almost random, but sometimes it is critical to the normal function of a cell. The best known example of this is what happens when egg cells and sperm cells are made: they can have the exact same DNA sequences, but their Cs are methylated in very different patterns. In general, you need the combination of methylation from a sperm and an egg to yield a viable embryo. There's an interesting technique where you can take the DNA out of an egg cell or a sperm cell, inject sets of DNA into another egg that has had its DNA removed, and trick the egg into behaving like it's been fertilized. More or less, if you make such an egg using two copies of DNA only from other eggs or two copies of DNA only from sperm, you'll get a screwed up embryo. Make such an egg using a copy of DNA from an egg and a sperm, and you'll get a normal embryo - it's all because of the way that the DNA was previously methylated in the sperm or egg, and it has nothing to do with the actual sequence of the DNA. Later, once a healthy embryo matures and starts making its own sperm or eggs, the methylation pattern is completely reset to whatever is appropriate for the cell type that it is making.

Stuff like that is only scratching the surface. A DNA sequence is a linear sequence, but chromosomes are moving, three dimensional objects that exist in time. They are surrounded by other objects (proteins, RNA, other atoms and molecules) that often stick to them and distort them, and they are floating in a complex goo that can vary in pH, salt content, etc. All of these things need to be in the right orientation and conformation at just the right time and place if you are to have a functioning organism. Complicating things even more, those orientations and conformations need to change, sometimes dramatically, as a cell's environment changes. It's hard to underestimate how rudimentary our understanding of all that is within a single cell, never mind within a whole organism.

It's an imperfect analogy, but maybe you can think of it like this: suppose you print out the source code for Firefox as a book, and then you give it to someone who doesn't know what a computer is and who doesn't have access to electricity. That person would be about as far away from compiling a working version of Firefox as we would be from reconstructing a complex organism with high fidelity from only its genomic sequence. More or less. (That's not to say that it would be impossible to take pieces of DNA from one organism, combine them with components from other organisms, and make some new hybrid. We do that all the time!)

[[C|-|E]] wrote:
Anyway, we still do not know how to properly read a DNA sequence. You could check the most common mutations causing diseases, but not much more.

...and even then, it's more common for connections between specific mutations and diseases to be correlative, rather than causative. Further, even when a genetic cause of a disease is known with 100% certainty, that does not mean that the disease is even remotely close to being cured.


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 Post subject: Re: Genome
Unread postPosted: Wed Jul 13, 2011 4:20 pm 
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[[C]-[E]] and josehill, those were excellent explanations which were clear even to me, someone who is completely illiterate as far as genetics go. I don't claim to understand all the background, but I think the point you made about the complexity inherent in this problem as well as the - for lack of a better term - non determinism of living organisms, would make replication from a genome an problem which is not only tough, but also undeterminedly so.

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