race and genetics


September 2020 Review with Nathan and Laura: Vaccine Choice, Dwarfism, Research Volunteerism

We take a deep dive into a core genomics question that is somewhat philosophical today: “what is a disease, or disability?” This month we heard about a new experimental drug for dwarfism called vosoritide that raised questions for parents of dwarfism. If the drug could make their children taller, would they give it to them? Laura asks “can we put forth a medication for a condition saying those who take it are better off getting rid of it and not be saying those who are not getting it are unacceptable to have these different lives?"

We also talk vaccines. Forget the anti-vaxxers. For those of us who plan on taking the vaccines, the question emerging seems to be, “which one?” There are so many manufacturers--and regulatory agencies. There will many be options. Will the early options be the best choice, or the later products? How has politics affected the results? Nathan wonders if there might be an app to help us choose.

There’s a lightning round at the end, and . . . at the outset, Nathan and Laura refuse to let a few comments of the president fall by the wayside.  They want their scientific rebuttal on record.

Catch all that here now in our September Genomics Review with Nathan Pearson of Root and Laura Hercher, Host of the Beagle Has Landed Podcast.

Note: Link to Cara Reedy's piece My Life as a Little Person

Ewan Birney on Race, UK Genomics

Our end-of-year special guest is one of the U.K.’s top genomicists, Ewan Birney, Co-Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute at EMBL. He is also the non-Executive Director for Genomics England.  Ewan's perhaps best known for his work with the ENCODE consortium.

We begin by following up with Ewan on a popular blog he co-wrote in October on race and genetics that responds to some of the latest trends on this topic. What does he think of “racial realism? How does he like being called “woke?” But there were issues not covered in the blog: if indeed race is cultural, what are DNA scientists doing talking about it?

We move on to general questions about genomic medicine in the UK. Ewan gives a nuanced answer on whether or not to do BRCA screening and paints a context for genomics which is different than we see in the U.S.

In a year when major genomic medicine companies have faced the chopping block in America—Human Longevity, Arrivale, UBiome— the field seems to be having a rosier time in England.  One of their health ministers just announced plans to sequence all babies at birth--a plan Ewan admits is aspirational, but "a credible aspiration."  Ewan says England and all the Nordic Viking countries enjoy strong support and interest in genomics. And in the U.K., he says, doing and believing in genomics is rooted deep in a tradition of science that goes beyond politics or any current resident of Downing Street.

Did he mean for his recent piece in the Guardian DNA is not our destiny,  it's just a very useful tool to be a correction to over hype? 

"Yes!  I'm afraid there's a very messy middle here.  It's not the case that genomics is going to somehow solve or radically alter medicine.  That's just not the way it works. But it's also not the case that it's useless.  It is a very useful tool.  It's very similar to radiology.  For certain scenarios, it is really transformative.  It's a core part of medicine.  But it's not the case that all of medicine was completely changed by X-rays."

October 2019 Review with Nathan and Laura: Prime Editing, Vertex Win, and ASHG

Our Halloween show this year summarizing October’s genomics news has more tricks and treats than spooks and scares. It’s Nathan and Laura back to sift through a big month of happenings from the cool CRISPR upgrade to Inscripta’s bold move in gene editing to Ancestry.com’s shift into health testing.

It’s all here, right now, on Mendelspod.

October 2018 Review with Nathan and Laura: ASHG Does Race, Parents Do Gene Therapy, Unsung Demons

As an election nears, the question of race and genetics has been front and center. It even prompted ASHG to take the unusual step of making a group wide statement. The three of us agree: scientists should talk more about the race question with non-scientists.

Two papers in Tech Review this month show that the world of people buying cures and disease prevention through gene editing isn’t around the corner, it’s here. Now what about those who can’t afford it? One of the papers was written by our very own Laura Hercher.

For the Halloween special, Nathan talks bugs, as in microbes, connecting many of this past month’s Nobel prizes in science to discoveries about bacteria—including the one in medicine.



New to Mendelspod?

We advance life science research, connecting people and ideas.
Register here to receive our newsletter.

or skip signup