LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘What’s in Your DNA?’

To the Editor:

While the prospect of a “free” 23andMe DNA test might help to draw students to the biology department’s “Personal Genomics and Medicine” course, The Sun’s coverage of this attraction raises far more questions than answers. The March 25 article states that the course aims to “demystify genetics and genetic science.” I’d argue that currently available genetic tests like 23andMe actually do the opposite. Instead of simply revealing a genetic blueprint to the user, direct-to-consumer genetic tests are riddled with social, political and ethical questions, turning the results into more than objective “data.”

The article briefly raises the question of privacy, but this is not enough. How are these technologies regulated? Who owns the data, and what can they do with it?

Gene in Worms Could Be Key to Longer Human Lifespan

Popular legend claims that drinking from the fountain of youth will keep one’s body vigorous and vivacious for years to come. Prof. Sylvia Lee, molecular biology and genetics, may have discovered such an elixir in the soils of Ithaca. Her research indicates the secret of immortality may be hidden in the genome of a worm. Lee found that Caenorhabditis elegans, a common species of soil worm, has a very similar lifespan and reproductive pattern to humans, importantly sharing hallmark features of human aging. These similarities make C. elegans a premier experimental model to reveal the mysterious mechanisms of mortality in humans.

Monkey Cloning Sparks Ethical Concerns, Profs say

Meet Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, two cloned macaque monkeys. Chinese scientists first unveiled these monkeys several weeks ago, marking the first time primates have been successfully cloned with the same method that created Dolly the sheep in 1996. Just as it did then, the science research community instantly raised ethical questions and concerns about human cloning. Theoretically, human cloning could be achieved in two ways. Reproductive human cloning would entail creating a living human, identical to another person previously or currently alive.

Cornell Professor Receives Award For Studies on Crop Genomics

On a daily basis, most of us do not think about the crops that our food comes from. And yet, the importance of commercial crop studies cannot be overstated, especially for human health. Without the crucial genetic mapping resources developed by Prof. Edward Buckler, plant breeding and genetics, these studies would be impossible. As a geneticist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Buckler is in a unique position to manage a variety of national resources to lead such studies. These efforts culminated in a Washington, D.C. ceremony in April, where Buckler was awarded the National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agricultural Studies.

The Future Belongs to the Curious

What if Mendel never wondered about how pea plants inherited characteristics? What if Rosalind Franklin was never curious about the structure of the odd new molecule DNA? What if the Curies never asked how radioactivity worked? The world today would have been very different, indeed. Barry Stoddard, the speaker at this week’s Seminar Series hosted by the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, emphasized this undeniable importance of curiosity in fuelling research.