Would You Want to Know If You're at Risk for Alzheimer’s?
Dr Arancio is a cellular neurobiologist who has contributed to the characterization of the mechanisms of learning in both normal conditions and during neurodegenerative diseases. During the past decade he has pioneered the field of mechanisms of synaptic dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Arancio’s laboratory has focused primarily on events triggered by amyloid protein. These studies, which have suggested new links between synaptic dysfunction and amyloid protein, are of a general relevance to the field of Alzheimer’s disease both for understanding the etiopathogenesis of the disease and for developing therapies aiming to improve the cognitive symptoms.
Would You Want to Know If You’ll Get Alzheimer’s?
Meryl Comer: We’re in a world of genomics. James Watson who co-discovered the double-helix structure of DNA had his genome mapped and was only the second to have done it. The cost has come down considerably. I think it was a million dollars to have it done when he had it done. But he told Big Think that the one and only thing he didn’t want to know was his risk for Alzheimer’s. Now do you think he made the right choice?
Dr. Troncoso: I think the team might have not found anything. The question is do you want to know whether you are high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. I think it is a very personal decision. Some people may not want to do it. Others who are very practical for planning reasons may want to do it, but with the understanding that unless it is in one of these families, the 3%, you know. In the rest of the population there is not a single marker that can tell you for sure they will have Alzheimer’s disease, even the most important one APOE you can have APOE4 alleles and you can still escape the disease. So it may be important for some people. They want to plan their life, yeah, why not? But if you don’t want to do it I won’t blame you.
Meryl Comer: In terms of full disclosure about whether or not you want to know if you can’t treat for a disease like Alzheimer’s: I had the test. I wanted to know for life planning. Did you want to know? Do you know?
Dr. Guarente: No, my feeling is I would like to know about risk for any disease that can be treated, but for a disease for which there is really no treatment I would rather not know.
Dr. Arancio: I don’t know and I don’t think it is important, partially for the same reason that he has said. And the second thing he has said, what if I find out before I have two copies of APOE4? I also know that doesn’t mean that I have developed necessarily disease and what if I know that I am the good apple and not the [...] or the [...]? It does not mean that I have not developed the disease.
Dr. Troncoso: I haven’t had a full genetic screening, but I do know my APOE, just at serendipity we needed blood when we started doing it in the lab. I gave a sample and that is what I know and it’s okay, but I don’t have you know. I didn’t do it because I wanted to know whether I would get Alzheimer’s disease. Even if I knew that I have the E4 allele, that doesn’t mean high risk, but there is no certainty.
Meryl Comer: Dr. Gandy?
Dr. Gandy: I don’t know. I tend to plan for the worst anyway, so planning I think I'm going to cover anyway. I think the issue is whether one is ready to deal with that information psychologically, and I've never felt that I really wanted to have that thing sort of hanging around.
Dr. Troncoso: There is one more twist to this. It has to do with your children, so the question is if for some reason you’re going to have a child and you may want to know whether you have a gene that will increase the risk in them. That would be the other situation which I would think about it.
Recorded on October 29, 2010
Genetic testing is advancing rapidly, and we can now find out our risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. But without a cure or treatment available, what’s the point?
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
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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.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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