Fruits can make good medicine at times, but it can also make good poison – sometimes unintentionally. A few people have been reportedly dying from eating star fruits – they mystery of which was solved soon. You see, star fruits contain a kind of neurotoxin that is harmful to the body. For most people, this toxin is filtered away by the kidneys. However, for people who are dysfunctional kidneys, or kidney problems, the toxin gets to travel around the body and be "absorbed", resulting in damage.

It was also reported that star fruits may be harmful to people who are suffering from heart problems and these people are advised against consuming such fruits. So, if you are suffering from any ailments that may be deadly, do contact your doctor for advice.

How much poison are you eating today?

KUALA LUMPUR- ALL it takes is one fruit or 100ml of its juice and the ordinarily harmless star fruit becomes poison in a matter of hours for kidney patients.

University Malaya Medical Centre consultant nephrologist Prof Dr Tan Si Yen said this was what had happened to Tang Gon Seang in China.

The 66-year-old, who has been suffering from a kidney ailment, was in Shenzhen visiting his son when fell into a coma on March 29 after eating star fruits.

‘Star fruits contain a neurotoxin which is not present in other fruits. It affects the brain and nerves. In healthy persons, the kidneys filter it out. In kidney patients, it cannot be removed and worsens their condition,’ he said.

More than 10 other patients in the hospital suffered the same condition after consuming star fruits. Two of them died.

After discovering the star fruit connection, Mr Tang has been undergoing dialysis.

His brother-in-law Teoh Thian Lye, 55, confirmed that Mr Tang had been on medication for kidney problems for three years.

The family sought the help of MCA Public Complaints and Services Department head Datuk Michael Chong to transfer Mr Tang back to Malaysia as the family could not afford the hospital bill of RM1,000 (S$430)-RM2,000 a day in intensive care.

According to Dr Tan, there was little awareness of this relatively new discovery and no local cases yet.

‘The public must be alert to reactions to star fruit. Look out for initial symptoms including hiccups, numbness and weakness, and neurological symptoms including confusion, agitation and epileptic fits,’ he said.

‘The risk of death is high,’ he added. — THE STAR/ANN

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 27th April 2008 dated 23rd April 2008

This may not be new findings to me, but I thought that I’d share this. While it is common for only females to get breast cancer, it may be possible for our male counterparts to get breast cancer, or other related cancers as well.

While they may sometimes not get breast cancer as per se, they may end up being carriers of the gene that causes it. So guys, do something meaningful with your life. Get a breast cancer gene test (Ed: this may or may not have implications with regards to personal insurance. Do check it out with your insurance agent on any repercussions).

SAN ANTONIO – DOCTORS are encouraging a new group of people to consider getting tested for genes that raise the risk of breast cancer: men.

Male relatives of women with such genes often do not realise that they, too, may carry them, and face greater odds of developing male breast cancer, as well as prostate, pancreatic and skin cancer, new research suggests.

‘Everyone thinks of breast and ovarian cancer and just assumes it’s all women. They don’t even realise these genes can be inherited from the father’s side of the family,’ said Dr Mary Daly of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

After seeing breast cancer in several male patients who did not know they were at risk, Dr Daly conducted a small study, which was presented on Friday at a conference in Texas. She now is trying to convince more fathers, sons and brothers of women with the genes to get tested.

‘Very few of them want to,’ she said.

Breast cancer is the most common major cancer in American women.

More than 178,000 new cases, and more than 40,000 deaths from it, are expected in the United States alone this year.

But men get it, too – about 2,030 cases are estimated to occur this year, accounting for about 1 per cent of all breast cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society. About 450 of these male cases will prove fatal.

The BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genes markedly raise the risk of breast cancer and are most prevalent among those of Eastern European Jewish descent.

In men, they double the normal risk of prostate cancer, triple the risk of pancreatic cancer and make breast cancer seven times more likely to develop.

As part of a larger study on perceptions of genetic risk, Dr Daly surveyed 24 close blood relatives of women who had tested positive for one of these genes and had told their male kin the results.

Six men said they had not been told, or had forgotten. Of the other 18, two mistakenly said the test had been negative. Seven did not think the results revealed anything about their own cancer risk.

Only five understood they, too, might carry the genes.

Of the six who expressed any interest in being tested themselves, three said they were doing so mostly for their children’s sake.

‘We try to reach out to the men in these families, particularly men who have little children,’ Dr Daly said. ‘If they were to die without being tested, their children would grow up without that information’ that they, too, were at risk, she said. — AP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 15th December 2007

Came across this article which talked on cancer cells. It’s interesting to know how people can now test how tactile a cell now is. Through this discovery, it is also possible to make drugs more target specific so that there will be less impact on normal cells.

The treacherous thing about cancer treatment is that they are usually not very target specific – pretty much like antibiotics and this will cause good cells to die off as a result. Sometimes, the good cells might also mutate and join in the cancerous path.

The thing about cancer is that the source of most types are usually difficult to trace, leading most people to attribute it to genetic variability. One common visualization is in the form of lung cancer.

Some people can smoke till their eyes are bloodshot and their nostrils look like darkened chimneys, yet they are still puffing their way while others, apparently after inhalation of second handed smoke was down with cancer. With such varied cases, it’s really hard to pinpoint the exact problem, and cancer research probably still has a long way to go.

This, however, does not lead to job stability, which I will touch on in an appropriate post. Let’s hope that this nano-scale discovery will not be a false positive.

PARIS – A nano-scale tool that distinguishes soft cancerous cells from stiffer normal ones could save lives by making it easier to diagnosis cancer, according to a study released on Sunday.

Using atomic force microscopes, a team of US scientists showed for the first time that the surface of living cancer cells were more than 70 per cent softer than their healthy counterparts.

This measurable difference in elasticity held true across lung, breast and pancreatic cancers, and could provide a powerful means of detecting malignant cells that might otherwise escape notice, said the study, published in the British journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Currently, pathologists examine surgically-removed tissue by placing stained, thinly-sliced sections on a glass slide and looking at them under a microscope for signs of the disease.

Another type of test for differentiating cancerous and normal cells uses antibodies to pinpoint certain proteins.

‘However, this complex process of cancer diagnosis is not always 100 per cent accurate because normal cells can sometimes look like cancerous cells,’ said MIT scientist Subra Suresh in a commentary, also published in Nature.

The frequency of diagnostic error for patients who have lung cancer may be as high as 15 per cent due to sampling errors or faulty interpretation, earlier studies have shown.

Combining existing methods with the new technique, however, could help reduce this margin of error.

In experiments conducted at the University of California in Los Angeles, a team of researchers led by James Gimzewski removed body fluid from suspected cancer patients.

Using atomic force microscopes – a nanotechnology gadget measured in units 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair – they applied minute amounts of pressure on individual cells with a sharp probe attached to a mechanical arm.

The term ‘microscope’ is, in fact, a misnomer because the tool gages surface pressure rather than providing a magnified view.

Very soft malignant cells
The researchers discovered that malignant cells – verified as cancerous by other means – were four times as soft as normal tissue across all three types of cancer examined.

‘Our work shows that mechanical analysis can distinguish cancerous cells from normal ones even when they show similar shapes,’ Mr Gimzewski and his colleagues concluded.

When a normal cell becomes cancerous, its shape and its internal ‘skeleton’ change. This transformation causes a loss of stiffness, but is not always visible.

The softness, they noted, makes it easier for malignant cells to invade and spread – or metastasise – to other parts of the body.

Further tests are needed to see whether the simultaneous existence of other diseases besides cancer in a patient might affect the mechanical properties of the cells and thus throw off the nano-scale measurements. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 2nd December 2007

A gene that is able to aid in the reversal of ageing had been found. This gene therapy was first tested on mice after they have aged on some parts of their bodies, creating a case-control model on the same subject.

The special thing about this gene is the reversal as opposed to inhibition. What this means is that even when if a tissue is aged, it can also be rejuvenated. On the other hand, if it were inhibition, then this must be applied an an early stage, i.e. pre-aged, before it can be effective.

Another good news is that this gene therapy can be applied through epidermal absorption, meaning, this can be used as a cream. I had been very skeptical about surface applied therapy, so I’d probably be finding out more on this.

This may literally give rise to a rejuvenation spa, where the person takes a spa and comes out literally rejuvenated. However, it may still take a while before this becomes a reality because the same gene that is intervened is also involved in the immunity system in the body.

Anyway, something like SK-II may one day be a reality. However, one more important usage of this is probably in the rejuvenation of aged organs. This might be a good alternative to cloning.

CHICAGO – SCIENTISTS have managed to make old skin in mice young again after just two weeks of treatment by blocking a single gene, according to a study released on Thursday.

They did this by creating genetically-modified mice with a defective gene that can be switched off so that their cells ceased to age when a cream was applied to the skin.

While still years from being determined safe for use in humans, the discovery offers hope of one day reversing many age-related illnesses and injuries as the technique may work on any kind of organ or tissue.

‘Previous work has shown you can reverse aging by really drastic measures’ such as a near-starvation diet or ‘connecting the circulation of a young animal to an old animal’, said lead researcher Howard Chang of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

‘Here we show that aging in mouse skin can be reversed by blocking a single gene,’ he said.

‘These findings suggest that aging is not just a result of wear and tear, but is also the consequence of a continually active genetic program that might be blocked for improving human health.’

Dr Chang’s team use a complex computer analysis to discover that a single protein is the ‘shared driving force for the genetic changing associated with aging in lots of different tissues’, he said in a telephone interview.

They then designed a genetically-modified mouse in which this gene would switch off only when the animal was quite old.

‘We even engineered it in such a way that we can actually turn off that defective version in some parts of the animal and not the rest,’ he explained.

‘We made this animal in such a way that it would respond to a cream that contained a specific chemical and we put the cream only on one half of the animal … so the rest of the animal was still old.’

Two weeks later, both the gene expression profile and the tissue characteristics of the treated skin had reverted to that of a young mouse.

While the idea of taking a full-body dip in the fountain of youth might sound like a fantastic idea, there are good reasons to target only specific areas of the body for treatment.

The same gene that stimulates aging, NF-eB, is also involved in the immune system and other cell functions so if it was blocked in the entire body it could cause death, Dr Chang warned.

The next step is to see if blocking the gene will also reverse aging in other tissues such as the heart and lungs.

There is also the question of whether the effect will last if the treatment is continued or if the tissues will rapidly revert back to their previous aged state if the treatment is stopped.

Other researchers are already looking at ways to block the gene in humans using drugs because of its role in the immune system, Dr Chang said.

Further experiments will show if one of those drugs can effectively be used to block the gene in targeted ways for anti-aging purposes.

‘What I hope won’t happen is a lot of people calling me up to make an appointment to have their face rejuvenated,’ Dr Chang added.

Even if researchers are able to develop a safe way to use the treatment on humans, there will always be serious risks involved in genetic intervention.

‘A lot of people in the field shy away from the fountain of youth and rejuvenation and focus on extracting quality of life,’ he said.

The study will be the cover story of the Dec 15 edition of the journal Genes and Development. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 30th November 2007

Breastfeeding is thought to provide the best milk that a new born can get because it contains antibodies that the baby may need for the first few months. It is apparently good for the mother because it’s supposed to help in reducing the risk of breast cancer, which I am not sure if it’s entirely true. If I were to have a kid one day, I think I’d do the same, regardless of the supposedly benefits to the mother.

However, it’s found recently that this may not always be good for the baby. Reports have said that the antibodies aside, there’s a chance that there may be too much adiponectin (which plays a role in metabolism of fats and sugars) in the milk, which may cause babies to be overweight by the age of 2. However, this very protein is also known to reduce the risk of heart diseases and diebetes.

In such an instance, it is important that the statistics be worked out correctly before a conclusion can be made. In research, the use of wrong statistics is often responsible for misinformation in the news. Another such misinformed news is that HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer, which is not entire right or wrong because (i) there are many factors involved and (ii) the alarming statistics that are usually reported misinterpreted the statistics that was worked out.

Thus if you are doing research, this is one important thing to take note of, which is why you should attend my biostatistics class, or get Miss Loi to educate you properly in statistics. Wrong reports by a researcher may be detrimental and traumatic to potential victims.

NEW YORK – MOTHERS who breast feed and have high levels of a protein secreted by lipids in their milk may be increasing the risk that their child will be overweight, German researchers report.Dr Maria Weyermann of The German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg and her colleagues found that a child’s likelihood of being overweight by age 2 rose with the amount of adiponectin in his or her mother’s milk.

The significance of these findings remain unclear, Dr Matthew W. Gillman and Dr Christos S. Mantzoros, Harvard Medical School, Boston, point out in an editorial accompanying the study, because infants may not be able to absorb the adiponectin contained in breast milk.

Also, they add, high levels of adiponectin in adults actually reduce heart disease and diabetes risk, making it ‘counterintuitive’ that high levels would contribute to excess weight in children.

The jury is still out on whether nursing does protect children from becoming overweight, Dr Weyermann and her team add.

The researchers investigated how breast-feeding might influence obesity risk by looking at adiponectin and another protein secreted by fat cells, leptin, which regulates appetite as well as the body’s use of energy from food.

Adiponectin is involved in metabolism of fats and sugars.

The foetus and placenta produce both proteins at high levels, the researchers point out, raising the possibility that they play a role in foetal development.

The levels of both proteins were measured in the breast milk of the mothers of 674 children when the infants were six weeks old. Among the children who were breast-fed for at least six months, obesity risk rose in tandem with breast milk adiponectin levels. However, leptin levels showed no association with whether or not a child would be overweight.

‘Our data provide evidence that the possible protective effect of breast-feeding against childhood obesity might depend, at least in part, on low levels of breast milk adiponectin,’ Dr Weyermann and her team write.

More research is needed before it is possible to determine the health implications of the research, if any, Drs Gillman and Mantzoros add. ‘The best advice remains that all women should strive to breast-feed their children for at least 12 months, with the first 4- to 6- months consisting of exclusive breast-feeding.’ — REUTERS

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 15th November 2007

It’s know that a lot of common essentials such as shampoo, conditioners, makeup powers and even razors contain a certain amount of nanoparticles to either provide the smoothness that your shampoo and conditioners can give you, or to give you that smooth looking skin or even to act as antibacterial agents.

Now, scientists have found out that these very particles that gives you all these good stuffs may actually be giving you cancer. It was found that fishes and mice which have ingested such particles had developed brain cancer and giving lung problems.

While not a worry yet, this insight has given the red alert to some researches who are beginning to discover the uses and possible harm that new technology can give.

Is your shampoo giving you nanoparticles?

SAN FRANCISCO – NANOTECHNOLOGY has been hailed as the science of the future, with micro-particles already powering innovations that remove lines from faces, strengthen beer bottles and clean clothing without water.

Yet early studies also indicate some of these particles, enabled by the latest in engineering science, can cause cancer.

‘We should recognise that there will be mistakes, and there will be hazards,’ said Professor Harry Kroto, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery of a nanoparticle called the Buckminsterfullerene. ‘On the other had, there’s a possibility that the value of nanotechnology will be overwhelming. For me, it is the science of the 21st century.’ Nanotechnology is the science of creating and working with materials about one nanometer wide, or one-billionth of a meter. A human hair, by contrast, is about 80,000 nanometers across.

Scientists say working with these particles holds the promise of building miniature machines atom by atom, just as every living thing begins with one cell.

‘The big deal here is that we’re domesticating atoms. We’re trying to make the basic building blocks of our world do our bidding,’ said Patrick Lin, director of the Nanoethics Group at California Polytechnic State University.

Some scientists are already using nanotechnology to add small particles of silver, long-known as an antibacterial, to razors, food-storage containers, and ‘anti-fungal’ socks.

Others are exploiting unusual properties that appear at the nano-scale. In the laboratory, for example, normal carbon atoms can be fixed into tube-like shapes, called nanotubes, which are 100 times stronger than steel and only one-sixth its weight.

Such tampering can bring new lighter power to a golf club.

The human impact
The problem is that these particles may be harmful to the human body, and scientists say it will be years before they fully understand their effects. Nanoparticles are small enough to slip unnoticed through a cell membrane but large enough to carry foreign material between strands of DNA.

There are no long-term health studies on the issue, but researchers have seen brain cancer develop in fish that ingest a small number of carbon nanoparticles. Rats that inhale carbon nanotubes have lung problems similar to those caused by asbestos.

‘There’s no reason to think that all of these things are going to be harmful,’ said John Balbus, chief health scientist at Environmental Defense, a public policy group. ‘But we should be prudent because of their ability to get into the body and access parts of it that normal chemicals don’t.’ Federal funding for nanotechnology research has tripled since 2001, but environmental groups complain that regulations have not kept pace.

‘We’re calling on government to invest more money in health, safety, and environmental research so that we can make sure these products are safe,’ said Ian Illuminato, health and environment campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

The Food and Drug Administration announced in July that drugs, cosmetics, or other products manufactured with nanotechnology do not require special regulations or labelling because it said there was no scientific evidence they pose any major safety risks.

Some companies are taking their own steps however.

This year, materials company DuPont agreed to a system – developed with Environmental Defence – for evaluating whether to proceed with projects involving nanoparticles.

Terry Medley, the DuPont lead on the project, described the step as ‘not only common sense but also good business.’ — REUTERS

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 14th November 2007

Ok, probably not in the real sense, but I came across this article that talks about one of the possible side effects of a popular sleeping pill – Stilnox. When I was working at a dispensary, Stilnox was given to patients who had acute insomnia, and is usually given when Valium no longer works for them. Stilnox is this small rounded rectangular pill that is usually given in tabs and names of recipients of this drug are usually recorded for stock-take purposes.

Just in case you feel that this is discrimination, users of Dhasedyl – a popular and addictive cough medicine, also have their names recorded! Haha…

Anyway, back to this drug, users of this drug apparently display unusual sleeping behaviour, such as walking while sleeping or doing other things, and according to the article, “patients were reported to have eaten, made phone calls, shopped online and even driven their cars while asleep after taking the drug. Here, patients have been known to have sleepwalked, cooked and even had sex while asleep, and suffered from amnesia after taking it. None of them could recall doing these things upon awakening”.

I am fine with people sleepwalking – but to make phone calls, shop online or even drive their cars? This is a little uncanny. How do you drive your car while asleep anyway? Can you even get past the entrance of the carpark (or driveway)? However, the most bohua thing to occur is… to have sex while asleep! Hmm… like that also can?

USERS of sleeping pill Stilnox, be warned: The drug may help you sleep, but it may also cause you to walk or do other things while asleep.

Unusual sleep behaviour while on the drug is rare, but enough cases have been reported worldwide – including five here – to warrant a warning on the drug’s packaging. Overdosing on it, or taking it with alcohol, appears to increase the risk of these effects.

Stilnox manufacturer Sanofi-aventis, a French pharmaceutical company, has submitted its revised labelling to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), which is reviewing it.

Sanofi-aventis has already included similar warnings on the packaging for Imovane, another sleeping pill it makes.

The HSA move asking for a warning to be included in the packaging follows similar moves earlier this year by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration and Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

In the US, patients were reported to have eaten, made phone calls, shopped online and even driven their cars while asleep after taking the drug. Here, patients have been known to have sleepwalked, cooked and even had sex while asleep, and suffered from amnesia after taking it. None of them could recall doing these things upon awakening.

The HSA said that the five patients here whose cases have come to light since March this year recovered after they stopped taking the drug.

It is probable that more than five people have experienced these side effects, since reporting to the HSA is voluntary.

The Institute of Mental Health’s pharmacy stopped dispensing the drug to its patients in April, but has since decided that its benefits outweigh the risks.

Stilnox will be back on its pharmacy shelves next month, but doctors and pharmacists will counsel patients who take it.

Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, still prescribes it as it works well, is less addictive than some other sleeping pills and has few side effects for most people.

He said: ‘It’s a rare occurrence and quite a small problem. It’s like when you drive, there’s a chance the car will crash. But if there’s a need, you’ll still drive.’

Article from straitstimes.com on 2nd November 2007 

* bohua – colloquial for doing something that is not worth the effort

Dr Raj Acharya, Professor and Head from the department of Computer Science and Engineering, Penn State University, University Park is currently giving a keynote speech on A Grid-based Virtual Center in the Framework of Information Fusion. The whole goal of the project is to take in biomarkers from the subject level and all and put it in a datawarehouse. And on top of that, an information fusion box is created so that we can make sence out of it.

The national center institute has started a new project called the Cancer Grid to support cancer research – so that individual nodes or cancer centers can chair the application on a grid and perform and analysis. What was proposed was whether we can simulate a virtual cancer – one that allows the sharing of data and that the application should not reside in just a few elite centers but everywhere.

Information fusion, which is the main concept behind this project notes that the whole is less than the parts. It enables 1 to analyse multiple, disparate biomedical data sets simultaneously. One of the ideas is to make use of wireless technology for data collection. For this, they have developed a prototype grid-based data warehouse for cancer data. The system simulates aspects of a virtual cancer center scenario.

The cancer research grid allows the collation of patient, clinical and pathology information, gene express information as well as public data (literature, etc) such that all these could be used for cancer analysis applications. The basic idea is to think of the information as a set of facts and dimensions. Facts are the objects to be analysed. They are analysed with respecto the dimensions. Example, dataset = Patient Demographics; User Query = What percentage of the prostate cancer patients belong to the African American race and fall in the age range of 50-60?; Fact = Percentage of Patients; Dimensions = Race, age at diagnosis. 

Multidimensional analysis helps discover simple patterns and associations among various data sets. From here, a toolkit comprising of the multidimensional analysis, combined clustering, correspondence analysis and homogeneity analysis and other components may be included. The correspondence analysis tries to see if there is any association from the data given. For the patient demographic data set, this tool helps answer questions such as: which age/race profiles, if any, define a typical profile of a prostate cancer patient?

So the correspondence analysis tool is really a dimension reduction tool. It can also be generalised as a multivariate analysis tool.

Information fusion may also be used in the area of gene expression analysis. It is known that genes from DNA are responsible for the expression of proteins, and Dr Raj has skipped a couple of slides from here. He looked into the co-regulation of genes to see if profiles of expressions can be used for the determination of gene co-regulation. He next covered KL clustering, in which, the KL divergene measuers the relative dissimilarity of the shapes of 2 gene profiles. Common motifs were next looked into, and combined with gene expression data. The aim of doing so is to identify clusters of genes with similar properties among all data.

Some experimental data are available, but are not allowed for public viewing because investigations are still ongoing.

In conclusion, a proposal for virtual cancer center was discussed, the CABIG framework was described and preliminary results on information fusion datawarehouse on the GRID is presented.

The recent finding from the sequencing of an individual has shown that there are more variants that we had first imagined in the human genome. While this shows that there is far more work that needs to be done, recognizing this would propel us forward, if we take it in the right manner. So, what are the possibilities if we are able to fully understand the genetic code one day?

Well, we might just be able to reconstruct a person from just a single DNA sample. After sequencing the DNA sample, we would be able to tell the colours of the eyes, the skin, the hair, the features… and possible the weight and height. If we are able to get a cell, we may be able to analyze the metabolomics and be able to use these metadata to aid in the reconstruction.

Given these advances, we will be able to reconstruct victims of crimes where they are disfigured beyond recognition. If we are able to get a sample of the assaulter, we will be able to reconstruct him as well. And oh, reconstructing a person here means doing it using imaging means and not really reconstructing a person. That might one day be possible but it will probably sound to far fetched to most people here.

And oh, just to add a last bit. When that day comes, the bio-ethics advisory better be functioning well, else if DNA data gets into the wrong hands, hell will, literally, break lose.

The first individual human genome has been sequenced, which was obtained from Dr Craig Venter who was formerly from Celera, who was working on sequencing the first human genome before the US government joined in, and effectively making the genome public domain.

The genome reveal more variations that initially thought of, that, it is more than just Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNPs) that determine differences between humans. Actually, this should have been quite commonsensical because everyone loses some bits of genes here and there, and by pooling different individuals for the first sequenced human genome, there is bound to be gaps and glitches everywhere.

In fact, should they decide to sequence another individual, they may discovered that places once occupied by “junk DNA” may actually be valid loci – places that are occupied by genes. Hence, in fact, humans are not really 99.9% identical!

This result preliminarily shows that we have quite a long way to go in terms of DNA research, which, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you see it, is what I am doing. This also means that personalized medicine may still have quite a fair bit to go, at least at the holistic level. There may be unknown interactions that linger from what is originally thought as junk DNA, and it is possible that such junk DNA may be reactivated. We’ll never know for sure.

Here’s the article in full from straitstimes.com. Standard disclaimer and rights apply.

PARIS – THE first individual genome ever sequenced – a complete DNA blueprint of celebrity scientist Craig Venter – has revealed genetic variation among humans far richer than previously imagined.
Published on Tuesday in the online open-access journal PLoS Biology, the 2.8 billion contiguous bits of genetic code will also hasten advances in preventative medicine, said Dr Venter, who is both an author and the object of the study.

Within five years, faster and cheaper sequencing techniques could produce complete genomes for 10,000 people, laying the foundation for ‘an era of individualised genomics’, he predicted.

‘Once we have those, we will basically be able to sort out every fundamental question about nature versus nurture, what’s genetic and what’s environment,’ he said by phone.

The findings overturn what had in a few short years become genetic gospel: that all human beings are, genetically speaking, 99.9 identical.

Dr Venter himself trumpeted this idea in 2000 when his biotech firm Celera, which he left in 2003, and a team of US-government scientists simultaneously unveiled – after a bruising race to the finish line – the fist complete human genome.

Both of these earlier efforts were flawed and greatly underestimated genetic diversity, he and his colleagues now say, because the whole had been assembled from a hodgepodge of DNA taken from several individuals.

The variations revealed in the new genome, dubbed, ‘HuRef’, go far beyond previously identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), once thought to be the key to differences in human traits and disease susceptibility.

SNPs are DNA sequence variations that occur when a single nucleotide – the basic building blocks, composed in pairs, of DNA – in the genome sequence is altered.

Also important, however, are previously overlooked variations in stretches of genetic code that were once dismissed as useless ‘junk DNA’.

‘This dispels the notion we had in 2000 and 2001 that we all have exactly the same genes in the human population,’ said Dr Venter. ‘It would have been very disturbing if the range of characteristics that we see all came down to a few simple SNP variations.’

The new data shows that in an individual genome upwards of 44 per cent of genes are variable in sequence. — AFP