Marijuana Can Trigger Schizophrenia
James Watson is an American molecular biologist best known for his discovery of the structure of DNA with Francis Crick in 1953. He was born in Chicago in 1928 and attended the University of Chicago for his undergraduate degree in zoology. While pursuing his Ph.D at Indiana University, Watson became interested in molecular biology, which led him to the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory for postdoctoral research. There he met Crick, the two recognized a common interest in discovering the structure of DNA. Watson, Crick, and another researcher Maurice Wilkins would later share the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in this field.
In 1956, Watson became a junior member of Harvard University's Biological Laboratories, where he quickly advanced to the position of full professor. Then in 1968 he became director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) on Long Island, New York, where he shifted his research emphasis to the study of cancer. Between 1988 and 1992, Watson was also associated with the National Institutes of Health, spearheading the Human Genome Project. In 2007 he became the second person, after molecular biologist Craig Venter, to have his entire genome sequenced. Watson remained involved with CSHL, as president and later as chancellor, until 2007, when he retired following a controversy over comments he made claiming blacks are less intelligent than whites.
Watson has written many books, including the seminal textbook "The Molecular Biology of the Gene" (1965), his bestseller "The Double Helix" (1968) about his discovery of the DNA structure, and his memoir "Avoid Boring People" (2007).
Question: What is the state of mental illness research?
James Watson: In the case of the brain, you know, you have disorganized thinking. But we don’t know what thinking is. So, you can’t look at... and say it’s not thinking right. So we didn’t come to, you know, a real chance to fight back against cancer until we do the basic, say laws in which DNA operated. And then finding how chromosomes divide, et cetera, and all those details.
Once we had that, then we could ask what... I guess why does the cancer cell behave differently? The case of the brain is clearly so complicated that in reality, about the only people that think about the brain are outsiders who are not capable of understanding it. That is the people who are sort of bright enough, or you know, trained enough know how inherently complex it is. And Francis Crick spent 20 years trying to think about it. In the end, nothing came out of it.
So, you know, in a perverse way, I think the only people that really know should think about how the brain operates are those people who deal with schizophrenia or bipolar disease where you know the brain just doesn’t work. So because for the most part the people who study it, who only got into the field because they have a child or they have a sister or a brother or, you know, you’re in it because you want to cure someone.
So we can take away delusions from people with schizophrenia, but they’re very cognitively impaired and we don’t know how to repair the cognition defects. And that’s why the become homeless if there’s no one taking care of them; they just really can’t look after themselves. So the thought that you can teach the homeless to take care of themselves. No, we have to take care of them.
Question: You have a personal interest in this?
James Watson: Yes. I have a son, who is a... not an ordinary form of schizophrenia, but clearly, cannot take care of himself. And the great fear of then, of all parents is, when the parents die, who takes care of your child? And the answer is: they become homeless. You know, unless there is sufficient money in the family or something, but, given the structure of society today... The mentally ill are treated very cruelly. We sort of deny their existence. Congress has virtually no interest in them. A great interest in cancer, but no interest... no one wants to hold a hearing on it.
Question: Do you think mental disorders like schizophrenia are strongly genetic?
James Watson: I would say, predisposition 100%. Whether it progresses to full-blown schizophrenia, probably some environmental influences, such as... It’s clear that if you’re pre-disposed to schizophrenia, smoking marijuana will tip you over. But marijuana won’t tip over someone into schizophrenia that is probably not predisposed to it. So, you know, most people smoke it and, you know, do not end up in mental hospitals. But some do.
Question: How will science pinpoint the genetic components of mental disorders?
James Watson: We’ve sort or proposed, you know, sequencing 100,000 in mental ill people because it’s not going to be just one gene that’s... you know, you can stop a car from functioning by, you know, destroying a large number of different parts. And the same way you can sort of put the brain and make it dysfunctional by just destroying one small part of a whole operating system. So, we’re pretty sure there’s at least hundreds of genes. But we think they will be put together where there will be some pathway to this schizophrenia, by which we can intervene in some cases.
And it’s too complicated now for me to say, but it may be even though many genes are involved, the way the brain works may nonetheless enable us to cure some. Some cases of autism, which look as hopeless as anything is that when people have abnormally high temperature and fever their symptoms diminish.
Now, so you think, well just raise their temperature a couple of degrees and they won’t be so sick. We’re in fact going to have a meeting about this. So, I’m dominated you know, I want to... we have to get the genetic information, but as a parent, I want something good to happen, you know, over the next five to 10 years.
Recorded on September 28, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman
The molecular biologist believes that a predisposition to schizophrenia is 100% genetic. Certain environmental factors, like smoking marijuana, can trigger the mental disorder.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
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