Tag Archives: Genomics

Despite alien theories and novel mutations, the real Ata puzzle may be ethical

Enlarge (credit: Bhattacharya et al. 2018)

In 2003, Oscar Munoz found a mummy in the Atacama Desert ghost town of La Noria. The six-inch-long mummy, now called Ata, has an elongated skull, oddly shaped eye sockets, and only ten pairs of ribs… which helped fuel wild speculation that she was an alien hybrid. Ata was sold several times—probably illegally—and ended up in the private collection of Barcelona entrepreneur and UFO enthusiast Ramón Navia-Osorio. A 2013 documentary called Sirius soon helped immortalize Ata, focusing heavily on the alien hybrid claims.

When a team led by University of California, San Francisco bioinformatics researcher Sanchita Bhattacharya recently sequenced the tiny mummy’s genome, however, it revealed only a girl of Chilean descent. There were a complicated set of genetic mutations,

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Odd vertebrate gets rid of hundreds of genes early in development

Enlarge / There’s no jaw on the front of that face, and all the tissues you see have deleted hundreds of key developmental genes. (credit: Michael Heck, Oregon Fish and Wildlife)

Sea lampreys are parasites native to the northern and western Atlantic Ocean that suck blood and other vital fluids from their fellow fish. They have the distinction of possibly being the first destructive invasive species in North America; they entered the Great Lakes in the 1830s through the Welland Canal and have been killing trout there ever since.

They also have the distinction of having split off from the rest of the vertebrate lineage very early on, about 550 million years ago, before the evolution of jaws. This makes lampreys useful as a model

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Why understanding the genetics of my heart disease isn’t much help

Enlarge (credit: mgstanton)

Atrial fibrillation is a heart disorder that causes the upper chambers of the heart to spasm instead of beating regularly. While that sounds dangerous, the lack of a regular heartbeat itself isn’t dangerous. Instead, a-fib causes lots of indirect problems that can be debilitating or fatal. We’re making progress in understanding the disease, as evidenced by two new papers that identify a total of 18 genes that predispose people to a-fib.

That should be exciting news. And it should be especially exciting to me, since I could have easily contributed to that study—as one of its subjects. I have a-fib, which I seem to have inherited from my mother.

Getting a better understanding of a disease can open all sorts of possibilities

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