Gene Genie #10 — The Canada Day Ultraspectacular Edition.

Gene Genie was the brainchild of Bertalan Mesk√≥ of ScienceRoll. At bi-weekly intervals since February 17, 2007, it has provided a showcase of blogging on the subject of genetics, and has moved well beyond its initial tongue-in-cheek “objective” of covering every gene in the human genome by 2082. In light of its effectiveness in sharing the excitement of discovery in genetics, it is hardly surprising that Gene Genie was mentioned, along with Mendel’s Garden, in a recent issue of the prestigious journal Cell. It was also an easy decision to commit to hosting an issue here at Genomicron when I was asked to do so. It is perhaps fitting (albeit mostly coincidental) that the 10th issue of Gene Genie, which I was invited to host, falls on July 1stCanada‘s 140th birthday. And so, it is with typical Canuck modesty that I am pleased to present the Canada Day Ultraspectacular Edition of Gene Genie.

We begin with a classic in the truest sense of the term. As the June 22nd entry for his weekly series on citation classics, John Dennehy of The Evilutionary Biologist discusses the famous Hershey-Chase “blender experiment” in 1952 that helped to establish the role of DNA in inheritance. The details of the relationship between DNA sequence and phenotype are, of course, still being elucidated 55 years later.

Case in point, discussion continues about the results of the pilot study of the ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project (for previous links, see here and here). Indeed, it appears that the very definition of “gene” is open to revision. Larry Moran of Sandwalk and adaptivecomplexity of Scientific Blogging discuss a paper by Gerstein et al. in Genome Research that summarizes the history of the gene concept and offers a new definition.

Scientific Blogging has a follow-up on the implications of ENCODE data. Along the same lines, Nick Matzke at Panda’s Thumb has re-posted my “onion test” in the hope of mitigating some of the undue enthusiasm about function for “junk DNA”. (To clarify, the test is neither anthropocentric nor onionocentric — it is just a useful comparison). And speaking of hype about genomes, Jonathan Eisen at The Tree of Life has instituted the “Overselling Genomics Awards“. I suspect that nominees will not be scarce.

Questions about definition aside, several recent blog entries have explored how genes are structured, how they do what they do, and how they evolve. Thus, Larry Moran discusses RNA splicing and the Nobel Prize winners, Richard Roberts and Phillip Sharp, who first identified the intron-exon structure of eukaryotic genes. PZ Myers of Pharyngula gives an overview of pair-rule genes and Evolution Research Blog provides a discussion of genomic imprinting in mammals. RPM at Evolgen examines the causes of variation in the rate of molecular evolution and the genetic underpinnings of smell and taste in Drosophila (which, incidentally, are not fruit flies). Evolution Research News discusses the link between genes and intelligence; environment also matters, of course, especially given new work suggesting that not just birth order but being raised as the eldest affects IQ. Remember: nature versus nurture is a false dichotomy.

Next, VWXYNot? provides a very good overview of the evolutionary explanation for endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), be they functional or not. ERV (the person, not a DNA element) introduces us to the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV), which exhibits both endogenous and exogenous viral properties. ERV also discusses her HIV research and Carl Zimmer of The Loom describes one possible reason that humans are susceptible to HIV, having to do with a previously evolved defence against an ERV (a DNA element, not the person). This Week in Evolution also delivers an overview of this interesting trade-off. Meanwhile, Denialism Blog and Aetiology highlight a report in Science about, the electronic antidote to AIDS denialism.

As usual, medical and other applications of genetics featured prominently in the scientific blogosphere in the past two weeks. Notably, Hsien-Hsien Lei at Eye on DNA discusses BRCA genetic testing for women without a family history of breast cancer. Over at Autism Vox there is a report about symptoms of fragile X being reversed in mice. FuturePundit notes how gene therapy may halt Parkinson’s disease. Both Eye on DNA and Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge weigh in on the association between genetics, the environment, and behaviour, in particular with respect to the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene and susceptibility to alcoholism. Gene Sherpas continues the series on Forbes and Genetics, this time discussing smoking and obesity. And I do some reflecting on my possible ancestry, which could be established with a simple DNA test, in Am I a MacGregor? here at Genomicron.

And finally, under the category of edutainment, Discovering Biology in a Digital World shares a link to some excellent animations of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that is now ubiquitous in molecular genetics, The Genetic Genealogist reports on the creation of a bicycle path in Cambridge in honour of the discovery of the BRCA2 gene, mutations of which are implicated in increased risk of breast cancer, and Bertalan Meskó at ScienceRoll interviews the creator of the Genomic Island in the popular online 3D virtual environment of Second Life. He has also posted a more detailed discussion about educational aspects of the online world here.

The next edition of Gene Genie will be hosted at My Biotech Life July 29th. Mendel’s Garden #16 will be hosted at Eye On DNA July 8th.

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