Posted in genetics

Know your ancestry via your DNA!

Genomics service companies and their reach to people is getting more and more evident. Sending a sample of your saliva gets you the information about your genetically similar cousins from a geographically different location, which you probably have not even visited in your entire life. Where did all this begin and what is the business of knowing your ancestry through your genes all about? If you are curious, read ahead.

The so-called famous Human Genome Project (HGP), which emerged as a grand celebration in the field of genetics, is the backbone of knowing your ancestry. Testing for ancestral genetics is made possible because of SNPs (abbreviated from ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ and pronounced as ‘snips’). I have previously explained them in my blog ‘Unify in the name of genetics‘. They are the polymorphic sites that define our differences, yet makes us all functionally alike.

The permutations and combinations of these SNPs among the human population is obviously varied and thus, we are defined by our ethinicity and/or geographic location. But are we all so different really? This is where human evolution utilizes the power of SNP knowledge. Combinations of SNP sequences changes each time there is sexual reproduction and a new human is born. These combinations are called haplotypes.

Through human genome project, plethora of haplotype sequence combinations were obtained. With the help of computers and mathematics, we can now compare and trace back their origin, which means ancestral genomics. We can trace back the origin of one human, based on percentage of similarity they carry of the common haplotypes, that are identified to be unique in a particular geographically human population (A hard-hitting truth for all the religious freaks, racists, and other types of discriminators, who are trying hard to protect their culture, their ancestry, their roots). We were the same at one point of time, we got distributed just like all the other creatures on earth – birds, mammals, insects, etc. because of change in nature and our natural need for survival. We survived the changing climate and many of our ancestors had no caste or religion or God they particularly worshipped. Our creation made us survive better in a particular environment and we continued to grow with those genetic changes. We will continue to do so. There is no you and me. There is just us! Tomorrow if Earth is undergoing a catastrophe, the fittest organisms are going to survive because of their genetic makeup. We are all interconnected and the more connected we stay, the more stronger we will survive the changing nature.

So what is the use of knowing your ancestral genome makeup? I truly can’t explain a benefit to anybody’s current life. It’s a luxury, a fun-fact or an adventure of knowing yourself. However, it does carry a baggage of unknowns which you might believe without having absolute surity. That can be taxing to your emotional well-being. Definitely for researchers it is going to be useful information to combine this information and map back the history of human population geographic split.

The same SNP information is used to compare the collective human genome data for identifying disease risk variants. Again there is no surity of such diseases to occur. It’s all in the name of probability. Increased probability of having a disease means that the data collected, so far, on those particular variants shown to support the occurrence of disease, is high. You will never know how many humans have the actual disease according to that data. It definitely doesn’t include the genome of the whole world population. More information about this can be read in my previous blog – ‘Limit your genetic worries‘.

Why are we having these companies in place and allowing them to test? We have millions of products in this world which get approved. As consumers, we need to be aware of what we choose. Real downside of direct-to-consumer tests is the breach of privacy. Companies can misuse the genetic information to their benefit and an average informed person won’t know it at all. Recently, a company has offered to the US government to help the separated families reunite by obtaining their blood and conducting genetic testing on them. It sounds so benevolent. But no! They might be willing to do it for free, however, just by obtaining that information, companies can conduct so much research and monopolize the genomic service market. Choose your genomic product services wisely!

If you still want to go for ancestral genetics, go for mitochondrial or Y-chromosome genomics. Mitochondria is a part of all our cells which we get from our mother, because we get nutured from her egg cell which has her mitochondria and that’s what gets passed on to us and every cell of our body. Every mitochondria has it’s own DNA material, whose functions are still being explored. However, it’s a fact to understand that it is conserved and inherited in all of us from our great-great-great grandmothers. Similarly, chromosome Y which differentiates males from females is only inherited paternally. You can be rest assured you carry the same Y chromosome as your great-great-great grandfather (Although they do recombine with the mother’s X chromosome and change a little over course of generation). These DNA sequences can really help trace your ancestry. But guess what, we don’t have data of your great-great-great grandfather or grandmother, so good luck with trusting the companies for that information.

A really good technical overview on this topic – https://youtu.be/FrpJ7HFKY8o. I hope this was interesting to curious minds!

Posted in Uncategorized

Anger management

Yes, anger is an issue and it is normal to express anger. Control over emotions is something to be taught to every human. If we are able to address our emotions and able to channelize them towards righteous issues, world would be a better place.

However, my beliefs regarding “anger” emotion has recently changed. May be it is the effect of my marriage or my job or part of my growth as a person. But definitely I have more control over my anger. Things that used to trigger anger in me, now no more affect me. Even if they do, I’m able to sarcastically point the flaws in the situation so it adds a little humor to my anger. May be I have less struggles than before. Or my current struggles are by choice versus previous struggles that weren’t my choice.

I have come to realize that much of my anger rooted from wrong beliefs that I carried. I used to use my anger as my protection. World isn’t all that nice and we have anti-social elements, especially in the men’s world, you have to be safe than sorry when you are a girl. So when I travelled alone in public transports or when I went to school or college or work, I kept a strict and serious face, rather than a smiling one. No one should take my smile as a welcome note to hit on me or fool me. So a lot of anger was a gift of experiences, incidents, that made my trust-broken emotions into anger. Thus, was my belief – a totally FALSE belief. The truth is my anger arose from my ego. Ego that I cultivated over time because my expectations didn’t turn out to be real. My anger wasn’t my protection, my ego was protecting my anger.

So, is this the case with everyone? I examined some people around me who are short-tempered and easily irritated. Most of them were like me. They presumed the other person to be ill-mannered or ill-intentional, so they reacted with anger before the other could explain the reason of their behavior or their words. Assumptions are the medium through which your ego feeds your brain with thoughts to generate anger. Before we understand, we react. This can stop if you understand one truth: everyone around us has their share of experiences and their share of assumptions. You are not the only hero to have zero tolerance. Everyone has a story and they are hero of their own story. Those who carry a lot of patience, probably understand this wisdom.

Again, I’m not the perfect person to talk about anger management and people who know me will testify that; but felt to share that I am learning to do it and may be you could too!

Posted in genetics

Story of crispy CRISPR!

Have you heard about designer babies recently in news? It is exactly what it is named – you can design your baby with the desired trait you want and more recently, this is a big debate in the scientific community.

CRISPR is a magical discovery that occurred somewhere in 1987 and since then the theory behind its mechanism has been contributed, discussed and published by various scientists all over the globe. CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) and Cas (CRISPR associated system; a group of proteins that work around CRISPR) are found in many single cell organisms (like bacteria) as an adaptive immune system (a system that protects an organism from infection/diseases). When a foreign organism like virus invades a bacterium, Cas helps recognize a small strand of its genetic material and adds it to the CRISPR chain. When the invader replicates to grow and infect the bacterium, CRISPR indicates another set of Cas proteins to recognize this small strand of foreign genetic material and cut the genetic material right at the same place and destroy them. This does sound easy and simple but its discovery and understanding took decades, as each bacterium had a different strength of CRISPR/Cas system, which was designed according to the type of invaders they encounter.

Once this mechanism was out, it was realized by some scientists that if they can design CRISPR/Cas system to recognize faulty mutations in genes, it can very well cut and replace it with the correct gene; in short, gene editing/therapy. Tons of experiments are being conducted on organisms, and animal models, leading to loads of CRISPR libraries. By libraries, I do not mean books. Gene libraries are designed genes for a particular well-known mutation-related disease, that can be shared and distributed between scientists to use in research for therapy and drug-action. As long as it was limited to animals and organisms, it was all ok. It was good for research but the medical field was not much bothered because it was a far-off dream to apply it in humans.

However, a group of scientists in Oregon recently designed human embryos in which they replaced faulty gene copy that causes life-threatening disease (Link1; Link2). They are successful in getting 70% of those embryos with corrected gene ready for implantation (IVF technique). They are the first success story in attempting to correct a defective gene in human embryos. As it is already hinted above, there is the war of words surrounding the scientific, ethical and legal issues with respect to applying this clinically on humans. Rightly so, it does sound like a fraught with danger. I would like to emphasize this is nowhere close to designing babies like Einstein or Edison. This is just a potential and hopefully, a LOT of thought goes into taking the extreme step of creating one.

Genetic engineering definitely is an optimistic scientific advancement, but keeping in mind, its potential to exploit, we need to put unbreakable iron bars of ethics and morals around it. A good read related to this – Link3!

Posted in thoughts of life

Peace is a possible dream, if…..

People are differentiable into various categories, which means, unity for peace and tranquility requires interaction. Not just any interaction,
it requires honest and open-minded interactions.

One way to achieve it is through travel. Travel as often as you can. It really opens up your mind to accepting differences. Instead of finding faults, you encourage your mind to find similarities. You travel to a new place, you sense the difference of life lived by you versus the locals in that place. It brings to us fresh understanding that beyond the walls of the house we live in, beyond the conversations with our family/friends, and beyond the miseries/pains that we experience, there is another world that visibly looks like ours yet responds to similar situations differently. You open your heart and mind to new people, which resonates optimism. (https://www.smallerearth.com/uk/blog/9-reasons-why-you-should-travel-the-world/)

Another way is to stay curious. Curiosity is the key to knowledge and knowledge helps you evolve towards betterment. Curiosity is my strong character trait. I’m definitely not much of a traveler but I’m curious about the world. It helps me read, understand and learn lessons of life that keep me grounded. A curious mind’s quest takes you through deep understanding of all kinds of emotions: defeat or success, hatred or love, betrayal or unity; if you start questioning your surroundings, actions and life members. For example, if I receive a rude reply for a nice gesture I did to someone, I debate it in my mind rather than express it upfront. A debate keeping both myself and that person’s possible views helps me not get offended, and possibly understand the person better. I take offense (Newton’s third law is unavoidable), but a curious mind helps me resolve conflict as I try to justify the action of the person, so reaction automatically changes.

Third way to bring peace and tranquility is by giving up ego. Having a ‘I am not wrong’ attitude or keeping yourself boxed in traditional belief system is the biggest hindrance to displaying rectitude in the world. However, if that is the choice of someone, Newton’s third law, should still work on such narrow minds. They must be avoided at all costs. It is still debatable as to whether to leave them to realize it by themselves or make them realize it when possible. I choose my battles, that is, I only try to make those realize who matter to me. Others get their fair chance of giving up the unnecessary attitude, if I still find them rude because they have ‘presumed’ wrong intentions in my action, I become indifferent. I am still evolving and I am hoping to discover a better way to handle people with stubborn ego.

Alas, what matters is how much you ameliorate yourself in a lifetime. Peace will find its way out – before or after a war.

Posted in genetics

Limit your genetic worries! 

Everybody wants data sharing. Data sharing is knowledge sharing and helps resolve issues faster. Genetic databases do the same. As much as I support the thought that people must participate in genetic research studies and volunteer to give blood, I also would like to warn you, the world of genetics isn’t immune to corruption. As much as science is associated with brilliance, science is well associated with unethical.

I’m pointing towards submitting your blood to companies that claim to be providing you with disease-risk-based genetic information (not the formal clinical testing suggested by a clinician). There are some that do for cost and some do for free. Irrespective of what you choose, the point you need to understand here is ‘they have your genetic horoscope in their hands’. Genetic information can be misused. Read this blog –http://blogs.asucollegeoflaw.com/lsi/files/2014/01/Use-Misuse-of-Genetic-Data.pdf to understand numerous ways genetics are misused and falsely advertised by various companies and even well-known brilliant scientists.

We, humans, have the tendency to divide and dispute with our own race for color, culture, language, intelligence, food, money, power, resources, and what not. Genetic information can literally be the best and worst weapon for discrimination. It is best and worst for the same reason – it reveals the truth about you and nothing can falsify that.

Excess of one thing is harmful, that includes knowledge. Your genetic information about risk for diabetes, or Parkinson’s or cancer should only be limited to you. Also, it should not be even told to you unless it is certain that your genetic change is well established and seen in other people to cause that particular disease. The idea of uniting genetic information is not to distribute your individual secrets to the world and make you conscious about yourself. The purpose is to find a pattern of information that can be trusted for treating emerging genetic diseases. Don’t fall into the false idea of knowing your genes. The majority of those genes have not been discovered, do not have enough evidence nor are referenced from reliable sources. When a company claims to give you information on possible risk for diabetes or hypertension or heart attacks, they aren’t 100% sure of what they are looking at. What is the point of getting yourself read when you are still a mystery?

Life is beautiful when kept simple. I will still encourage any person reading this blog to submit their blood as a volunteer to any research study so it can be used to study and discover or invent a cure for a disease. That is not to learn about yourself, but to learn about your race. It leads to unity of human race, not discrimination of you based on how soon you will die or how strong you are!

Posted in thoughts of life

Collateral beauty

No this is not a movie review. This is just another blog but something that I firmly believe in!

The collateral beauty that we all carry is ‘Emotions’. We all carry various degrees of various emotions. How we figure our limits of expressing each one of them to one another, how we learn to change ourselves through them, is our purpose of life.

Change is the only thing unchangeable. Change and time walk side-by-side. You can’t stand and stay at one point carrying same emotions every time because time changes and it won’t wait for you. Get to pace with time, learn to change with time, learn to change at the moment in time. Now, I don’t tell you to change completely. Change towards betterment. Time does change, and can’t be controlled, but what you can control is ‘WHAT’ the change should look like? Change for goodness, change to spread goodness. That’s what we all are here for!

I started off with emotions but talked more about change and time, don’t think I am digressing. Emotions play the most important role in changing You. Don’t hold on to emotions that depress you, that hold you back from changing and walking in pace with time. Learn to get rid of emotions that keep you stagnant. Anger, ego, stubbornness, strictness, jealousy, competition, etc. are few emotions that everyone needs to let go.

That’s what brings us together. The collateral beauty is that ‘we are all at different stages of learning to get rid of emotions that hold us back’. We are here to share them, help ourselves get better with time and realize those emotions aren’t worth holding to. We combined with our endless emotions make life better every day.

Posted in genetics

Unify in the name of genetics

How often do you hear a person with a genetic disease? If not through friends, I’m sure you do hear in news. Let’s talk from basics: Genes in your DNA, which resides inside every cell of your body defining your entire self from ur looks to your allergies to your intellect to your behavior.

If you want to have a clear basic understanding of what is the role of DNA, I recommend you watch this video – https://youtu.be/zwibgNGe4aY. All you need to know is DNA helps create all those proteins that work together to define numerous functions inside our body – digest all kinds of food, repair/heal broken tissues, protect from infections and fever, grow just the right length and strength with the correct functioning of all our organs. So, how does a perfectly functioning DNA, end up having wrong information coded in them affecting us such that we end up having incurable genetic diseases like various cancers, intellectual disabilities, etc.?

One of the reasoning starts with the 1% difference in our DNA sequence, which increases or decreases our susceptibility to a particular disease. There are millions of single A, T, C or G sequence changes that have endless combination possibilities because of our unique parents, that lead to our variation. That’s just the 1% difference. These changes mostly are silent, making the same protein and ultimately the same expression in every individual, but some of them are easily damaged, some are tough to damage; making a person more susceptible to disease while another person resistant. This is just one aspect. A technical brief description on what I just wrote about – https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/genomicresearch/snp.

The other reasoning is age. If you are not shocked, you are aware. If you are shocked, you can read some real data – https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/age.

So, how exactly does age get associated with cancer, which predominantly is the toughest genetic disease? When our cell grows (because we have to continue to grow our organs and eventually ourselves), DNA gets replicated and equally distributed to each cell so that all organs work properly and in tandem, just like any team work in an office or school. After each replication, DNA reads itself making sure it’s work is correctly coded and all DNA strands are identical. If something is wrong, there are various repair mechanisms which correct the mistakes and makes DNA perfect. What happens when we grow old? Growth rate slows down, there is not enough need for DNA to replicate and let me remind you, repair mechanism won’t work unless it feels there is a check needed. Environment changes, food habit changes, exposure to various medicines, drinking, smoking and so on and so forth – all these affect your DNA. The DNA of a particular cell or multiple cells, which have the wrong code, start thinking that it needs to start working towards growth. We have tons of growth-promoting genes, and growth resisting genes. Deleting the growth resisting genes or duplicating the growth-promoting genes is easily possible in a globally warming earth, or artificially-made-food-eating habits, or just a cigar. Don’t believe me, see the articles – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html; https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/a_human_health_perspective_on_climate_change_full_report_508.pdf; http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/smoking-and-cancer/how-smoking-causes-cancer.

You might know that decades ago, humans weren’t known to be living beyond 60yrs. Science advanced their lifespan to 90yrs. But, science didn’t know DNA will change the story, and that it does get tired functioning just like old people do (or probably that is why they get tired). There are stories you might have heard, about smokers who haven’t got lung cancer, about obese people not having any obesity-related diseases, etc.. Let me tell you those cases are just a handful. They aren’t superior humans. They aren’t looking far into the future. Generations of the smokers can carry those DNA changes that he/she developed due to smoking, and those genetic changes become the natural DNA content in their children who can be born with it. We aren’t enough aware how any of us can be affected, but it’s time we must!

Let’s talk about how can we contribute. Instead of saying, ‘Oh! my uncle got cancer, I feel helpless’ or ‘Oh! my niece is born with epilepsy, I feel terrible’, let’s take an oath to fight against transferring the transformed bad genes to our children and future generation. One way is to stay aware of your family diseases and taking that care required by you to avoid that happening to you or your children. This is well known and well advised by doctors, scientists, nutritionists, health experts, etc. and it stands 100% true.

The second way is to contribute your blood to genetic research studies or clinical trials (if you have a genetic disease). If you see the history, infectious diseases spread like super fast and were conquered fast too. Genetic diseases are slow in development and also are rarely diagnosable because of their varied spectrum of clinical features. The reason infectious diseases are easy to conquer is that we get tons of humans infected and we can easily study them to see a trend in the genetic change caused by the infectious agent and also what is the strength of the infectious agent. The secret is in the number. Genetic diseases don’t get diagnosed easily because although we know the entire DNA sequence of a human, we are still figuring the thousands of genes that we carry and their functions. One patient might have ten genetic changes, we can’t easily figure out which one genetic change is really causing the disease unless there are hundred more such people with same genetic change pattern. If you submit your blood to a particular research study being done in your nearby educational institute or hospital, there is one more human to compare the genomic sequence from to learn what could be different. Even if you are genetically normal, it helps a lot for researchers to compare the normal vs abnormal pattern to pinpoint on causative genes.

The third way is to do what I am doing – Be part of this mad journey of identifying these genetic patterns to understand the ‘currently incurable’ genetic diseases. There are millions of ways to contribute in this world for its betterment. If we have to beat genetic disease like cancer, we must unify our genetics to fight against itself.

– a request from a genetics professional