Researchers Want to Link Your Genes and IncomeShould They?

The UK Biobank is the single largest public genetic repository in the world, with samples of the genetic blueprints of half a million Brits standing by for scientific study. But when David Hill, a statistical geneticist at the University of Edinburgh, went poring through that data, he wasn’t looking for a cure for cancer or deeper insights into the biology of aging. Nothing like that. He was trying to figure out why some people make more money than others. Along with a team of European collaborators, Hill sifted through the UK Biobank data to find about 286,000 participants who had answered a survey question about household income. Using that information they conducted something called a Genome Wide Association Study, where …

It’s Either the Best Time or the Worst Time to Have a Baby

Reproduction is messy. The genetic swaps and recombinations that occur when gametes merge don't always happen perfectly. Babies don't arrive when scheduled. Even preventing reproduction can be complicated, as anyone who has ever wrestled with birth control can attest. That said, it’s arguably a better time than ever to have a baby. Prospective parents struggling with infertility can turn to IVF, or sperm and egg donation. But as the egg donor industry grows more sophisticated, the donors themselves are sometimes kept in the dark. Once a person becomes pregnant, they can take advantage of the extraordinary advancements in noninvasive prenatal testing to screen for chromosomal abnormalities and genetic mutations—but then, what actually happens to the mountains of genetic information these …

The Read/Write Metaphor Is a Flawed Way to Talk About DNA

In 2014, chemist Floyd Romesberg, of the Scripps Research Institute, synthesized a new pair of artificial nucleotides and got a cell to accept them as part of its genetic code. In metaphorical terms, he extended the alphabet of life. To review, the DNA molecule is built from four nucleotides, or “letters”: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). Each letter is one half of a pair—A always goes with T, and G with C—and each pair forms a single rung of the molecule’s twisted ladder. Romesberg’s team, after years of work, synthesized a third pair—X and Y—and inserted it successfully into the code of a bacterium, which then reproduced, maintaining its synthetic code. Life on Earth depends on …

Gene Editing Is Trickier Than Expectedbut Fixes Are in Sight

Of all the big, world-remaking bets on the genome-editing tool known as Crispr, perhaps none is more tantalizing than its potential to edit some of humanity’s worst diseases right out of the history books. Just this week, Crispr Therapeutics announced it had begun treating patients with an inherited blood disorder called beta thalassemia, in the Western drug industry’s first test of the technology for genetic disease. But despite the progress, there remain a host of unknowns standing in the way of Crispr-based medicines going mainstream, chief among them safety. That’s because the classic, most widely used version of Crispr works by slicing open a strand of DNA in a specific spot in the genome and letting the cell stitch it …