Medical Monday


When modern humans migrated out of Africa some 60,000 years ago, they found the Eurasian continent already inhabited by brawny, big-browed Neanderthals. We know that at least some encounters between the two kinds of human produced offspring, because the genomes of people living outside Africa today are composed of some 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA.

Two studies published concurrently in Nature and Science on Wednesday suggest that while the Neanderthal contribution to our genomes was modest, it may have proved vitally important.

Some parts of non-African genomes are totally devoid of Neanderthal DNA, but other regions abound with it, including those containing genes that affect our skin and hair. This hints that the Neanderthal gene versions conferred some benefit, and were kept during evolution.

“It seems quite compelling that as modern humans left Africa, met Neanderthals, and exchanged genes, we picked up adaptive variants in some genes that conferred an advantage in local climatic conditions,” says Joshua Akey, who led the study in Science.

“The adaptive things from Neanderthals are very interesting because they are not obvious,” says John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in either study. Based on fossil bones alone, anthropologists would never have predicted that Neanderthals contributed to the keratin filaments and immune systems of modern people.

The fact that Neanderthal DNA is totally absent from other stretches of the modern non-African genome suggests that their versions of the genes in these regions would have caused problems in modern humans, and were weeded out by natural selection.

In the Nature study, Sriram Sankararaman and David Reich of Harvard Medical School used the previously sequenced Neanderthal genome to screen 1,004 modern genomes for sequences with distinctive Neanderthal features.

For example, if a fragment of DNA is shared by Neanderthals and non-Africans, but not Africans or other primates, it is likely to be a Neanderthal heirloom. Also, Neanderthal sequences are typically inherited in large batches, since they were imported into the modern human genome relatively recently and have not had time to break apart.

In the Science study, Akey and Benjamin Vernot, both of the University of Washington in Seattle, used similar statistical features to search for Neanderthal DNA in the genomes of 665 living people—but they initially did so without the Neanderthal genome as a reference. They still managed to identify fragments that collectively amount to 20 percent of the full Neanderthal genome.

Neanderthal Influence on Skin, Hair, Common Diseases

Despite their different approaches, both teams converged on similar results. They both found that genes involved in making keratin—the protein found in our skin, hair, and nails—are especially rich in Neanderthal DNA.

For example, the Neanderthal version of the skin gene POU2F3 is found in around 66 percent of East Asians, while the Neanderthal version of BNC2, which affects skin color, among other traits, is found in 70 percent of Europeans.

The Neanderthal version of these genes may have helped our ancestors thrive in parts of the world that they were not familiar with but that Neanderthals had already adapted to. “Neanderthals had been in these environments for hundreds or thousands of years,” says Sankararaman. “As modern human ancestors moved into these areas, one way to quickly adapt would be to get genes from the Neanderthals.”

“Unfortunately, skin and hair do so many things that it’s hard to speculate on what specifically that adaptive trait was,” says Akey.

Sankararaman also found Neanderthal variants in genes that affect the risk of several diseases, including lupus, biliary cirrhosis, Crohn’s disease, and type 2 diabetes. The significance of these sequences is “even less clear.”

Both teams found that non-African genomes have large continuous “deserts” that are totally devoid of Neanderthal DNA. These regions include genes such as FOXP2, which is involved in motor coordination and could play an important role in human language and speech.

The Neanderthal-poor deserts are especially big in the X chromosome, and include genes that are specifically activated in testes. This hints that some Neanderthal genes may have reduced the fertility of male modern humans and were eventually lost. However, Hawks cautions that this probably happened over hundreds of generations—it was very unlikely that the sons of Neanderthals and modern humans were obviously infertile.

DNA Hints at Other Mystery Humans

Both teams are now planning to apply their methods to other hominids like the Denisovans—an enigmatic group whose presence in Asia some 40,000 years ago is known just from DNA from a finger bone and some teeth found in a single cave in Russia.

And Akey’s work shows that it may even be possible to partially reconstruct the genomes of unknown groups of ancient humans without any prehistoric DNA samples.

“That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about,” he says. “Paleogenomics is a difficult field because it often requires finding suitable fossils with well-preserved DNA. “Maybe we’re not always beholden to bones. We can look at the genomes of present-day individuals.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Pleistocene was awash with many different groups of early humans, hooking up with each other to various degrees. Recent studies, for instance, have found tantalizing hints of unknown groups from Asia and Africa that left genes in Denisovans and modern humans, respectively. Akey’s method could give us our first glimpse at these mystery humans.

“If there is no fossil evidence and potentially never will be, this will be the only way of finding out about groups that were important in human history,” he added.

National Geographic/Ed Yong/Photograph Joe McNally


for Source:  National Geographic

The Multiracial Advocacy Loves a New Ad!

I was watching television last night and caught a new Swiffer commercial. A big thank you to the Swiffer company! The ad has an interracial couple with happy, multiracial kids! -Susan

Bill de Blasio Takes Office

Taking Office, de Blasio Vows to Fix Inequity

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Bill de Blasio, right, with his wife and children, was sworn into office at City Hall on Wednesday by former President Bill Clinton. More Photos »


Bill de Blasio, whose fiery populism propelled his rise from obscure neighborhood official to the 109th mayor of New York, was sworn into office on Wednesday, pledging that his ambition for a more humane and equal metropolis would remain undimmed.

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Letitia James was sworn in on Wednesday as New York City’s public advocate. Dasani Coates held the Bible.

In his inaugural address, Mayor de Blasio described social inequality as a “quiet crisis” on a par with the other urban cataclysms of the city’s last half-century, from fiscal collapse to crime waves to terrorist attacks, and said income disparity was a struggle no less urgent to confront.

“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love,” he said to about 5,000 people at the ceremony, many beneath blankets on a numbingly cold day.

Mr. de Blasio, 52, the first liberal to lead City Hall in two decades, delivered his critiques as his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, whose Wall Street pedigree and business-first approach to governance seemed to embody the city’s current gilded era, sat unsmiling a few feet away.

It was only one of many potent symbols of change that dominated a ceremony unlike many before it.

Gone was the more solemn air of inaugurations past, replaced by the booming strains of disco, soul, and dance music by the Commodores, Marvin Gaye and Daft Punk, spun by a local D.J. stationed high above the audience. (Even Hillary Rodham Clinton, seated onstage, swayed with the music.)

Several of the nation’s pre-eminent Democrats — including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton, who administered the oath of office over a Bible once owned by Franklin D. Roosevelt — appeared with Mr. de Blasio on the dais, celebrating the elevation of a party stalwart with whom they had close ties.

The ceremony was filled with an unusually open airing of the city’s racial and class tensions, including a poem bristling with frustration about “brownstones and brown skin playing tug-of-war,” a pastor’s words about “the plantation called New York,” and fierce denunciations of luxury condominiums and trickle-down economics.

Mr. de Blasio, a careful custodian of his image, took pains to choreograph the appearance of a newly approachable and inclusive City Hall, arriving with his family on the subway and walking onstage to doo-wop tunes. Even the placement of cameras seemed to ensure that only the dignitaries on stage and ordinary New Yorkers arrayed behind them would be shown — and not the many lobbyists and political operatives in the crowd.

And although he warned that his administration’s work “won’t be easy,” Mr. de Blasio made only passing reference to the myriad and daunting challenges — fiscal, political and structural — that he will face in enacting his ambitious policy agenda.

Several of his proposals, including his signature plan to pay for prekindergarten classes by raising taxes on the wealthy, are at the mercy of the governor and state legislators in Albany. Other elements of his platform are expected to be opposed by powerful interests in the city’s corporate classes.

But in his first hours as mayor, Mr. de Blasio opted to focus more on his aspirations for the office, and fulfilling a campaign promise to change the tone of city government on Day 1.

The mayor’s transition team held a ticket lottery so that ordinary New Yorkers could attend the inaugural ceremony, and the City Hall plaza was quickly filled with a diverse crowd that punctuated speeches with impromptu cheers, lending the feel of a jamboree to an event typically more formal than festive.

From her seat in a back row, Justina Taylor, 16, of the Bronx, started singing along with a Jay-Z song. “This is my kind of inauguration,” she said.

Light moments abounded. The young children of Scott M. Stringer, who was being sworn in as the city comptroller, squealed as their father sought to recite the oath of office and drowned out his words. Mr. Stringer laughed: “He’s not quite ready for a television commercial,” he quipped — a sly reference to the celebrity that Mr. de Blasio’s 16-year-old son, Dante, attained after starring in his father’s campaign ads.

Mr. de Blasio, clad in a black topcoat and red-and-white striped tie, was first glimpsed on a stadium-size screen emerging from a nearby subway station, as the song “Boy From New York City” played over loudspeakers. “He’s kind of tall,” went one lyric, a fitting description for the gangly Mr. de Blasio, who at 6-foot-5 is the tallest to hold the office in at least a generation.

The event turned starkly emotional at times, as well.

The crowd was rapt as Ramya Ramana, a young Indian-American poet, made a cri de coeur in verses addressing familiar themes of class and poverty from Mr. de Blasio’s campaign. Ms. Ramana, in an appearance partially arranged by Chirlane McCray, Mr. de Blasio’s wife and a poet herself, described a New York that was “not lights, not Broadway, not Times Square,” but “coffee-colored children playing hopscotch on what is left of a sidewalk.”

Letitia James, the new public advocate, delivered what amounted to a blistering rebuke of Mr. Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure as mayor. The first minority woman to hold a citywide elected office, Ms. James invoked images of “decrepit homeless shelters” in the “shadow of gleaming multimillion dollar condos.”

To underscore her message, Ms. James invited Dasani Coates, a young homeless girl featured in a recent series in The New York Times, to stand by her side. Dasani, who sat onstage behind Mr. de Blasio and his family, also held the Bible for Ms. James as she took the oath of office. If Mr. Bloomberg was perturbed by the tone of the proceedings, he did not let on. He sat stoically throughout, his lips pursed. Now out of office, he was headed to Hawaii and New Zealand for a two-week vacation.

In his own speech, which lasted 19 minutes, Mr. de Blasio urged the crowd to acknowledge Mr. Bloomberg’s work in public health and environmental policy, which he called “a noble legacy.”

But Mr. de Blasio did not hesitate to restate his determination to change the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics, saying he wished to “protect the dignity and rights of young men of color.”

And he invoked the names of towering liberals in New York’s past, including former Gov. Alfred E. Smith and former Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia as left-leaning politicians who proved social reform was possible in a city often synonymous with unfeeling, free-market capitalism.

After a highly personal campaign in which he placed his family at the forefront of advertisements and pamphlets, Mr. de Blasio unsurprisingly made sure his wife and children held central roles at the event. He introduced Ms. McCray as “my partner in all I do.”

And after the singer Harry Belafonte opened the ceremony, Dante de Blasio stood and slowly guided the 86-year-old singer back to his seat.

The political royalty on hand included Senator Charles E. Schumer and former Mayor David N. Dinkins, who provided Mr. de Blasio with his first professional experience in City Hall, and with a colleague who later became his wife. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani did not attend. Edward I. Koch, who died last year and supported a rival of Mr. de Blasio’s in the mayoral race, went unmentioned.

After the ceremony, Mr. de Blasio greeted those who had attended inside City Hall on a receiving line that lasted some three hours, part of a conspicuous effort to show that city government would be more open during his tenure.

But his final event of Wednesday would be a private one: The mayor was set to host a party at Gracie Mansion, his new residence, for colleagues and friends.

The public was not invited.


Source: The New York Times

U.S. Population

Census Bureau Projects U.S. Population of 317.3 Million on New Year’s Day

As our nation prepares to begin the new year, the U.S. Census Bureau today projected that on Jan. 1, 2014, the United States population will be 317,297,938. This represents an increase of 2,218,622, or 0.7 percent, from New Year’s Day 2013.

In January 2014, one birth is expected to occur every 8 seconds in the United States and one death every 12 seconds.

The projected world population on Jan. 1, 2014, is 7,137,577,750, an increase of 77,630,563, or 1.1 percent from New Year’s Day 2013. In January 2014, 4.3 births and 1.8 deaths are expected worldwide every second. India added 15.6 million people over the one-year period, which led all countries, followed by China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

Facing Racism


Facing Racism

Adding the element of race to a discussion makes people uncomfortable.  It is as if some illusive, powerful force has entered and takes up all the air. For all the hope we hold as our national image, we can be a hard place. In fact, we have a horrible and unhealed history. It becomes difficult to move forward because we are not expanding our understanding. It is a rare moment….and one of true opportunity…when someone opens a door to welcome a different perspective and a dialogue is entered that can hold multiple truths of those whose life experiences are vastly different.  Yet, educators cannot avoid these face to face encounters…in fact, we must seek them out… if we aspire to create environments safe for all students and produce a generation of young adults who will lead well in a multi-cultural, multi racial world.

What must it feel like to be judged by our appearance? Most of us have had an experience with otherness. We were the farm child at the centralized school, the girl who wanted to play hockey, the boys’ sports, we were the only Jewish family in a community, or we were the lone black child on a bus or the Asian child struggling to learn English. Remember when people feared that a Catholic president would turn the country over to the Pope? There may be some among us who have always been the majority. We live in a country in which good-looking people are elevated to hero status, especially in high schools. Taller people have traditionally risen to higher ranks of leadership than shorter people.  Men have been accepted into top positions more than women. Many have worked to break those barriers but barriers are strongly embedded in our culture.

While NBC and other news outlets report on the recent incidents in which persons of color were held and questioned because of purchases they made at Macy’s or Barney’s, our students are watching.  Why did suspicion arise over those purchases? The youth of America are watching as even well known personalities are held for questioning for simply purchasing an expensive item. They watched while the television reported how Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. Now, another Martin in Florida raises race and bullying. Our students are watching as Richie Incognito tosses racial insults into the Miami Dolphins rookie hazing and the team and the sport struggle to determine what is in bounds and where the lines are drawn.

Is it possible that profiling only takes place in big ways, like what makes national news? Is it possible that only people outside of education make judgments about persons of color?  Is it possible we are truly color-blind when working with children?  “Today, the color-blind ideology provides a veneer of liberality which covers up continuing racist thought and practice that is often less overt and more disguised (Feagin, as cited in Derman-Sparks & Ramsey 2006. p.33).

The beginning of an anti-racist journey for adults starts with a breaking of the silence. Derman-Sparks and Ramsey say,

It is about people recognizing the reality and implications of their white racial identity and undoing their learned racial superiority and entitlement.  It is about overcoming fears about losing connections with family, colleagues, and friends because of these choices.  However, the anti-racist white journey is also about becoming more whole, healing the wounds of alienation and dehumanization that racism creates, and opening up to the richness of human diversity in our country and around the world (2006. p.21).

These words may be difficult to digest for some.  But we must face the issues of racism in ourselves and in our schools.  We cannot simply turn the channel and go on about our business.  Perhaps, the intertwining of poverty and race will force us to enter this seemingly treacherous territory.

Beginning with the ending of legal segregation, and further strengthened by the election of America’s first African American president, many White people argue that White dominance and racism are a thing of the past (2011. p.39). However, recently Time.Com reported that the father of Ted Cruz who is a member of the Tea-party, openly called for our President to “go back to Kenya.”  While we can dismiss this as pretty typical politics, it would be quite a good thing if the biases and prejudice within them were not part of our present.  Racism is not a thing of the past.

And each of us is a more courageous leader if we wrestle long with ourselves to know whatever bias lives in us.  We have children watching and waiting for us to do something.  We cannot ignore the revelations that appear in the news.  They are our opportunities.  These are difficult steps to take and guidance along the way is essential.  No matter the process chosen, the first steps have to be to open the doors for the adults to begin to examine their own bias, or ignorance, or prejudice.  If we do not begin in earnest, to face the truth about our societal beliefs about being white or black or Asian, we cannot lead schools that are safe for children of color and we will not be preparing our students for lives as adults in welcoming, multi-cultural world.

In Derman-Sparks’ and Ramsey’s second edition, they say, “Still, the United States is not a post-racial society.  We have a long way to go to fulfilling the dream of ending all forms of institutional and individual racism” (2011.p.36).  It is in us and our schools.  We are not suggesting that we are bigots. But we are suggesting that we need to lead into this territory because others probably won’t.  Even if we do it awkwardly at first, it is still the leader’s path.

Source: Education Week 

Multiracial History?




How Diversity Will Alter Black History

A changing population will help shed more light on America’s multiracial past.




(The Root)—This is part 3 of a three-part series. To see the previous stories, click here and here.

Time was, the social construct of the one-drop rule made United States history either black or white. The rule emerged from the South as a way to facilitate slavery and implement Jim Crow segregation. But while the courts and the civil rights movement have dismantled legal segregation, vestiges of the one-drop rule still linger.

But now, 7 million Americans self-identify as multiracial, quickly changing the meaning of who is black, white, Asian, Hispanic or other. For some, it raises questions about how history is perceived by future generations, black history specifically. Will there still be a need for Black History Month?

“We’ve been biracial or a multiracial country since the 17th century,” Bernard W. Kinsey told The Root. He and his wife, Shirley, are touring their Kinsey Collection, a national museum exhibit of African-American art and history dating back to the 1600s.

“America is the only country in the world where having one drop of black blood still makes you black,” Kinsey continued. “We operate on this notion of color as a basis of identity in America. I’ve been to 94 countries, and no other country operates quite like America does with this notion of color.”

Douglas A. Blackmon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II, told The Root that a multiracial America will only bring to the surface what has been hidden for centuries.

“All American history has always been multiracial, at least certainly since the early 1600s,” Blackmon told The Root. “It’s not a question of whether there has been a multiracial history, but whether it’s been acknowledged or specifically understood.

“It’s even something today that people tend to be confused about,” Blackmon continued. “At family reunions, there would be white people who are descended from a particular plantation or farm with the same last name as a lot of the African Americans there. I frequently will say that it may be a bit of a mystery today exactly who is related, but back in 1865 everybody knew who was related to whom. The multiracial history was suppressed, especially during the segregation era. Now we have this openness to current multiracial ethnicity that allows for a more honest reckoning of long-standing multiracial issues.”

John Hanc recently wrote in the New York Times about just that. Rock Hall, a Georgian mansion in suburban Lawrence, N.Y., was the former home of Josiah Martin, a sugar planter who built it in 1767. He moved to the American colonies from Antigua after living through a slave uprising. The historic house museum, Hanc says, has a new story, including tales about the lives of slaves and domestic workers who have previously existed in the shadows.

“Their part of the story is now coming into clearer view—and it appears to have been a more complex role than one might have imagined,” Hanc writes. “Evidence collected by Chris Matthews, a professor of anthropology at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and Ross Rava, an independent scholar, suggests both a greater interconnectedness between family and slaves and at the same time, a limited autonomy for the Africans. The result of their nearly decade-long digging was published this month in the Long Island History Journal, a scholarly publication, and it depicts Rock Hall as what professor Matthews calls an ‘Afro-European creation.’ ”

To Read More:

Source: The Root




New York Mayor


Bill de Blasio, aged 52, stands out for more than his physical size; the almost-two-metre-tall Italian-American, well-anchored towards the left of the Democratic party, was swept into the office of mayor.


Married to African-American activist and poet Chirlane McCray, the couple have two children. De Blasio has gathered together a coalition of support that includes women’s groups, Asian minorities and Hispanic and black voters. De Blasio is white. 

In the run up to the election De Blasio said: “New York city is a city of families and neighbourhoods – progress that knows that we must be a city of opportunity for all.”

With a programme dedicated to middle earners in the US city with the most inequality, de Blasio gained a sizable lead on his Republican contender Joe Lhota. Lhota tried to make out that the Democrat would make concessions on safety which would lead to a rise in crime, but it didn’t work.

De Blasio has often criticised outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg’s law and order policies, like stop-and-frisk practices by the New York police.

New Yorkers are more concerned about other things. No other city has such a high concentration of billionaires along with people living on the edge of poverty.

The income threshold for this is pegged at the equivalent of 23,000 euros for a family of four. More than one in every five New Yorkers live at this level.

De Blasio proposes has raising taxes on incomes above 375,000 euros (equivalent) per year, and a lot of people support this.

New York voter Tanya Pettis said: “I think de Blasio will be in our best interest. He looked like he’s more interested in what the people need and, you know, the schools and everything. Lhota seems like he’s not so much interested in the common person, the middle class. Nobody’s really helping the middle class. There isn’t any middle class anymore.”

De Blasio wants kindergarten from age four for everyone, and evening outside-school programmes, and he wants to build 200,000 socially-subsidised housing units – to be paid for out of an already stretched Big Apple annual budget of 52 billion euros – and shine a light on equality and liberty.


Medical Monday

Personal Genomics Firm 23andMe Patents Designer Baby System, Denies Plans to Use It


Screenshot of 23andMe’s webpage for prospective parents.


As described in a patent recently granted by the United States Patent Office, consumer genomics company 23andMe has developed a system for helping prospective parents choose the traits of their offspring, from disease risk to hair color. Put another way, it’s a designer baby-making system.

The company says it does not intend to use the technology this way. “When we originally introduced the tool and filed the patent there was some thinking the feature could have applications for fertility clinics,” said Catherine Afarian, a 23andMe spokeswoman. “But we’ve never pursued the idea, and have no plans to do so.”

Filed in December 2008, the patent — number 8543339, “Gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations” — sounds like something out ofGattaca, the 1997 movie that came to symbolize tensions between self-determination and biologically ordained fate.

The patent describes a technology that would take a customer’s preferences for a child’s traits, compute the likely genomic outcomes of combinations between a customer’s sperm or egg and other people’s sex cells, and describe which potential reproductive matches would most likely produce the desired baby.


Among the traits listed in the application as examples of possible choice are: height, weight, hair color, risks of colorectal cancer and congenital heart defects, expected life span, expected lifetime health care costs, and athleticism. The company, which has about 400,000 customers, offers genomic analysis of more than 240 traits altogether, from Alzheimer’s disease risk to breast shape and memory. Additional traits from this longer list could presumably be used the same way.

A figure illustrating how 23andMe’s patented trait-selection system could hypothetically work. Image: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

In some ways, this type of selection is theoretically available to people now using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, an assisted reproduction technique in which doctors scan an embryo’s genome before it’s implanted in a woman. However, PGD is currently used to prevent serious genetic diseases or, in a small but growing number of instances, to pick a baby’s sex.

Clinics offering PGD don’t give customers a list of possible, non-medically relevant traits to choose from. That’s actually illegal in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. A short-lived plan by U.S. fertility specialist Jeffrey Steinberg to offer hair- and eye-color selection ended in 2009 in a storm of public condemnation.

Some women who conceive using in-vitro fertilization and donated sperm,which accounts for roughly 50,000 pregnancies each year in the United States, do practice a form of selection, but in very broad terms. They typically look at general information, such as the traits, life history and health background of sperm providers, rather than genetic profiles.

As detailed in 23andMe’s patent application, this type of information often misses important medical details, such as genetic risks not evident in family histories. The company’s patented system would included that information, and also offer more fine-grained control over a baby’s traits. Its potential market could include not only women using assisted reproduction, but also people who’ve had their genomes sequenced and are curious how their progeny might turn out. If that happened, baby-designing might establish a market foothold.

“It would be so irresponsible of 23andMe to actually offer a product or service based on this patent,” said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a bioethics think tank concerned with the responsible use of genetic and reproductive technology.

Not everyone would agree: though polls suggest that most Americans oppose screening for non-medical traits, some people argue that“designing” babies by selecting traits like intelligence is no more sinisterthan sending them to good schools or doctors, and that selecting traits like eye color isn’t especially harmful .

Regardless of one’s position on trait selection, 23andMe’s Afarian says that it’s not a concern. The patent covers 23andMe’s Inheritance Calculator — an existing service that predicts the likely eye color, alcohol metabolism, earwax composition, bitter-taste perception, lactose tolerance and fast-twitch muscle composition of customers’ offspring — but the Calculator won’t be expanded to include other traits, Afarian said.

“There are no immediate plans to update the Inheritance Calculator, or do anything other than what we’re doing now,” said Afarian. If customer demand existed for other services or features in the future, 23andMe would respond, but the demand for trait selection simply isn’t there right now, she said.


‘The stories that we tell about what’s affected by genes … is what’s at stake.’

Geneticist Daniel MacArthur of Massachusetts General Hospital said he’s not especially concerned about moral objections to selecting offspring traits with the type of technology described in the patent, but he thinks it’s important to be realistic about what’s even possible.

When 23andMe filed its patent in 2008, the results of large-scale population genomics studies were just becoming apparent. Many researchers expected that the genetic underpinnings of complex traits and diseases would soon become apparent; in general, they’ve been disappointed.

Advances have been made in understanding traits and conditions driven by activity in one or a few genes, but those are biological exceptions. Most of what people want most to understand, to give or avoid giving to their children — intelligence, character, freedom from chronic disease — is extraordinarily complicated.

Of what can be attributed to nature rather than nurture, only a small-to-medium-sized fraction can presently be linked to what’s found in a genome scan. Even for traits like height, which are relatively straightforward and well-studied, scientists can now account less than half the role played by genetics. For some traits, such as athleticism and the overstated importance of fast-twitch muscle, there’s a discrepancy between what’s being measured and what actually matters.

“We’re not there yet,” said geneticist Nathan Pearson of Ingenuity Systems, a genome analysis company, of linking genotypes to complex traits. A good rule of thumb, said bioethicist Tom Murray of the Hastings Center, who helped set up the ethical arm of the Human Genome Project, is that the power of genomic prediction declines in inverse proportion to the importance of what’s predicted. The likelihood of bitter-taste perception might be easy to estimate, but not longevity.

To Darnovsky, designer babies are in a sense less troubling than our ideas about them. Overestimating the importance of genes could lead people to underestimate the importance of everything else, as whenElysium director Neill Blomkamp argued that social equality can only be achieved through genetic engineering.

“The stories that we tell about what’s affected by genes, what does and doesn’t matter, is what’s at stake,” Darnovsky said. “If we come to believe that we can select certain traits in our children, and that’s the best we can do for the human condition, then we’re in bad shape.”


Census Bureau Underestimates Number of Portuguese Speakers

This is how the Census Bureau can mislead with data. They used the American Community Survey (ACS), which samples a small percentage of the population every year and does NOT produce accurate results. -Susan 

Census Bureau’s online map plots out Portuguese speakers

The U.S. Census Bureau now lets you zoom in on an area of the nation to see how many Portuguese speakers there are, as well as speakers of other top non-English languages in the United States.

Released earlier this month, the Language Mapper is an interactive, online map that lets users choose from a menu of 15 languages and see a national population density map. The map has dots with each representing about 100 people who speak that language at home in the area selected.

Built with data collected through the American Community Survey from 2007 to 2011, the interactive map can be accessed at

According to Nancy Potok, the Census Bureau’s acting director, the map can be a very useful tool for communities to plan their language programs.

“Businesses can tailor communications to meet their customers’ needs. Emergency responders can use it to be sure they communicate with people who need help. Schools and libraries can offer courses to improve English proficiency and offer materials written in other languages,” she said in a prepared statement.

On the same day, the Census also released the report “Language Use in the United States: 2011.”

The report shows that out of 291.5 million people ages 5 or older, 60.6 million (21 percent) spoke a language other than English at home, although more than half of these people can also speak English “very well.”

The study revealed there were 673,566 people ages 5 or older who spoke Portuguese at home in 2011, representing an increase of nearly 125,000 speakers between 2000 and 2010. More than 60 percent of Portuguese speakers also spoke English “very well.”

However, some say this data may not paint a true picture of the Portuguese-speaking communities, since the report is based on the American Community Survey (ACS), which samples a small percentage of the population every year.

“I think it’s a conservative estimate … a huge undercount,” said Paul Pinto, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance for Portuguese Speakers. “It’s based on a sample and I don’t think it effectively accounts for the second and third (Portuguese) generations. There are a lot of Portuguese families who speak Portuguese, but do not speak Portuguese at home.”

This is one of the reasons it is absolutely critical for the Census Bureau to release the 2010 Census data regarding the Portuguese-speaking communities.

“That will be a true count, not just a sample,” Pinto said.

Pinto said he had a chance last Friday to convey these concerns to Jeff Behler, the New York Regional Director for the U.S. Census, who also oversees this region.

The meeting took place at Pinto’s office in Cambridge. MAPS was part of the Portuguese-Speaking Complete Count Committee, a statewide advocacy campaign to bring awareness and urge all Portuguese speakers to complete the 2010 US Census.

“We’re trying to get the 2010 Census data released because that data would be much more reflective of our communities,” concluded Pinto.

Source: By Lurdes C. da Silva O Jornal

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Race-Based Medicine?

Below are a few paragraphs from a very important article about the need for race-based medicine by Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. I urge you to follow the link to the full article at Project Syndicate. –Susan


Race-Based Medicine?

Much of the current debate centers on whether race should be a criterion for inclusion in clinical trials – and, by extension, whether drug labeling should mention race specifically. Although the issues are complicated, the solution is simple: follow the data.

Some regard race-based medical treatment as necessary to reduce health disparities, while others view it as downright discriminatory. When BiDil was approved, Francis Collins, who was Director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute at the time, warned that “we should move without delay from blurry and potentially misleading surrogates for drug response, such as race, to the more specific causes.”

Of course, Collins was correct; race is a crude and incomplete mechanism for understanding genetic differences. But we must fight illness with the data we have, not the data we wish we had. Political and ethical sensitivities notwithstanding, drug testing, approval, and labeling must go wherever the evidence leads.

To read the entire article go to:–miller

Source: Project Syndicate