Gene Genie #32 – Googling the Genie

Reading time: 11 – 18 minutes

Welcome to the 32nd edition of Gene Genie, a blog carnival devoted to genes and genetic conditions. This edition includes some excellent articles on genes and gene-related diseases, genetics, genomics and personalized genetics.

Google Health launched publicly this week and to recognize the event, the last section of the carnival is devoted to articles specifically about the service. Google, financial backer of 23andMe, also funds the Personal Genome Project, which plans to unlock the secrets of common diseases by decoding the DNA of 100,000 people in the world’s biggest gene sequencing project [1]. With the vast number of genetic data points collected for each genome sequenced, a digital system for the movement and storage of personal health information is critical for the widespread use of individualized healthcare. Google’s entrance into the online personal health records market may thus help to accelerate the era of personalized medicine.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s get to this month’s edition of the Genie.

Genes and gene-related diseases

The term gene refers to an inheritable trait that is typically accompanied by a phenotype (meaning an observable characteristic); this is called an allele. Most genes code for proteins and many play a role in health and disease. However, researchers are challenging the one gene, one protein concept, suggesting that perhaps each gene sequence overlaps the next [2]. Like most things in biology, the closer we look, the more complexity we find.

Dr Shock MD PhD

Rates of depression and other psychiatric disorders are higher in people who have two copies of a genetic variant of the serotonin transporter gene as a function of exposure to increasing levels of stressful life events. A recent study examined the biological reactivity to stress in people with two copies of the allele [3]. Dr. Shock asks How Can Genes and Stress Cause Depression?

Genetics & Health

Researchers in Canada recently tested the hypothesis that DNA methylation plays a role in alterations in gene expression in the suicide brain [4]. Elaine Warburton describes Suicide – Genetic Changes in Brain as a Result of Childhood Abuse.

Think Gene

Schwann cells insulate nerves in the peripheral nervous system and can dedifferentiate with injury to accelerate healing. A recent study demonstrates that c-Jun is an important regulator of this plasticity [5]. Josh Hill reports that c-Jun is Turning Back the Clock for Schwann Cells.

Eye on DNA

Hsien-Hsien considers the possibility of 23andMe showing personalized ads for personalized medicine, and hopes that the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center will have compliant study participants when 23andMe Collaborates on Study of Parkinson’s Disease Genetics.

Retail Genomics

Simon Lin also writes about the collaboration between 23andMe and the Parkinson’s Institute. 23andme is Shaking up Clinical Research, and Simon’s happy to see the combination of consumer genomics and clinical trials.

The Skeptical Alchemist

Mice laking the glucose transporter gene Glut2 fail to control their food intake, suggesting a role for glucose sensing in the brain. Steppen Wolf reviews a study in humans showing that individuals with a genetic variant of the same glucose transporter, GLUT2, have a higher daily intake of sugar [6]. Now there’s Finally an Excuse for My Sweet Tooth!

The Spittoon

A recent genome-wide association study in Asians found an association between a SNP of the gene PSCA and an increased risk of diffuse-type gastric cancer [7]. Erin Cline reviews the study in SNPWatch: Researchers Find SNP Associated with Diffuse-type Gastric Cancer.


Genetics — the study of how physical and behavioural traits are inherited and the variations between organisms — has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Genetics focuses on how genes specify the structure and function of an organism, and how that information is replicated and passed on to subsequent generations. Genetics is central to biology and is far-reaching, affecting medicine, agriculture, identity and privacy.

Nimravid’s Weblog

The foundation of comparative genomics is that genes that are shared between closely related species have similar function and cause similar phenotypes when deleted from the genome. Nimravid reviews a systematic examination of this hypothesis [8]. Are You a Human or a Mouse?

Greg Laden’s Blog

A method for increasing the power of genetic studies in canines is to sample dogs of the same breed but from different geographic areas. A recent study assessed the genetic variation among dogs of the same breed collected from different geographic regions [9]. Greg Laden reviews the study and describes genetic variation, disease-connected alleles and dogs in his article Evolutionary Genetics of Canine Population Structure.

Adaptive Complexity

A review of genome-wide association studies highlights the knowledge gained and challenges that remain as researchers work to identify sequence variation and disease predisposition [10]. Adaptive Complexity covers The First Report Card for Genome Wide Association Studies.

PredictER Blog

Jere Odell writes about a genetic counselor’s response to a Nature article reporting the genomic DNA sequence of James D. Watson [11]. Dr Watson’s Genetic Counselor: Witty or Insulting?


David Bradley discusses Genetic Manipulation and asks, “Do the GM pros outweigh the cons?”


Genomics is the study of an organism’s entire genome to determine biological markers predisposing an individual to disease. Here at Highlight HEALTH, I explain the difference between genetics and genomics in my article Genomic Medicine: An Educational Resource from Helix Health.


T Ryan Gregory explores the multiple meanings of the term genome, clarifying “what is a genome?” and “Whose Genome was sequenced?”

Gene Sherpas: Personalized Medicine and You

Timing is everything. Steve Murphy highlights two major impacts on the future of Genomic Medicine last week when he writes about Timing, GINA is Law and the Future of Genomic Medicine.

Giovanna Di Sauro

A recent study used transgenesis to evaluate the function of sequences obtained from an extinct species in transgenic mice [12]. Giovanna Di Sauro tells us about Jurassic Park in the real world with her article Tasmanian Park: Extinct Mammalian DNA Back to Life.

Next Generation Sequencing

The NGS blog reports that the Genome Reference Consortium Launched. The consortium’s goal is to correct the small number of regions in the reference that are misrepresented, to close as many gaps as possible and to produce alternative assemblies of structurally variant loci.

Personalized Genetics

There’s much discussion about personalized genetics right now as a number of companies that can test your DNA are being launched around the world. 23andMe is on a mission to be the world’s most trusted source of personal genetic information; Navigenics aims to help you live healthier, longer; and deCODEme claims that its never been so easy to learn about ancestry, disease risk and inheritance of physical traits as it relates to you and your genome.


Berci Mesko discusses the recent improvements of individualized medicine in his article Personalized Genetics: Privacy and the Virtual Gene.

PredictER Blog

How would personalized genetic information change the perceptions of risk and behaviors of people making retirement plans? Jere Odell ponders Retirement and Risk: Betting on Your Genes?

Think Gene

Personalized genetic services test for SNPs, DNA sequence variations that occur when a single nucleotide — A, T, C or G — in the genome is changed, producing different alleles. Most services test between 500,000 and 1,000,000 SNPs, yet interpret less that 100 traits. Kevin Fischer demonstrates how to get more information about your genome. Tell me Everything: How To Use SNPedia for 23andMe and deCODEme.

The Genetic Genealogist

How reproducible are the results of genome scanning services? Blaine Bettinger evaluates the Accuracy of Large-Scale Genome Scanning Services. He follows the article up by assessing the Reproducibility of SNP Testing.

DNA Direct Talk

After speaking about competition in the lab testing space at the Executive War College on Laboratory and Pathology Management, Trisha Brown reports that It’s Not Just the Test, It’s the Service.

Genetic Future

Daniel reflects on a panel discussion on direct-to-consumer genetic testing of 23andMe, deCODEme and Navigenics at Cold Spring Harbor.

Genome Alberta Education

In an on-going blog series that serves as a ‘consumer guide to personal genotyping’, Mike Spear describes Genomics at Quinpool, recounting some comments and questions from the Youth Forum on Personal Genomics where students and a panel of experts looked at his personal genome test report and SNP file.

Google Health

The goal of Google Health is to organize health information and allow users to make their medical records available to doctors or pharmacies. Additionally, you can use the service to find out how medications might interact, refill prescriptions online or get personalized health information based on your profile. When asked if Google Health could make it easy to access personalized genetics services, they indicated that they “have some genetic partners where we’ve already been making investments. Genetics is much further out, and will be done at the control and discretion of the user” [1].

business | bytes | genes | molecules

Deepak Singh gives the service a quick synopsis in his article Your Personal Health: Google Health is Live.


Techcrunch gives Google Health A Quick Hands-On Look.


Richard MacManus reviews the limitations of Google Health in his article Google Health Launches – Cautious, Non-Innovative Entry into Health 2.0.

As Google Releases Google Health, John Grohol expresses concern that an individual’s Google Health record may be an ideal way for other companies to market to them based on their specific health concerns.

Pimm – Partial immortalization

Attila Csordas gives us some background of Google Health’s product manager, asking that we Meet Dr. Google Health: Roni Zeiger, right from Stanford!


Berci Meskó hopes he will never get pharma ads or spams from doctors based on his health profile when he announces Google Health: The First Steps.


That concludes the 32nd edition of Gene Genie. My thanks to everyone who submitted an article. You can find more information about the carnival as well as the hosting schedule and past editions at the Gene Genie Website. The next edition will be hosted at Neurophilosophy on June 8th.


  1. Google Backs Harvard Scientist’s 100,000-Genome Quest (Update2). 2008 Feb 29.
  2. Pearson H. Genetics: what is a gene? Nature. 2006 May 25;441(7092):398-401.
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  3. Gotlib et al. HPA axis reactivity: a mechanism underlying the associations among 5-HTTLPR, stress, and depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2008 May 1;63(9):847-51. Epub 2007 Nov 19.
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  4. McGowan et al. Promoter-wide hypermethylation of the ribosomal RNA gene promoter in the suicide brain. PLoS ONE. 2008 May 7;3(5):e2085.
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  5. Parkinson et al. c-Jun is a negative regulator of myelination. J Cell Biol. 2008 May 19;181(4):625-37.
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  6. Eny et al. Genetic variant in the glucose transporter type 2 is associated with higher intakes of sugars in two distinct populations. Physiol Genomics. 2008 May 13;33(3):355-60. Epub 2008 Mar 18.
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  7. The Study Group of Millennium Genome Project for Cancer. Genetic variation in PSCA is associated with susceptibility to diffuse-type gastric cancer. Nat Genet. 2008 May 18. [Epub ahead of print]
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  8. Liao and Zhang. Null mutations in human and mouse orthologs frequently result in different phenotypes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 May 13;105(19):6987-92. Epub 2008 May 5.
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  9. Quignon et al. Canine population structure: assessment and impact of intra-breed stratification on SNP-based association studies. PLoS ONE. 2007 Dec 19;2(12):e1324.
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  10. McCarthy et al. Genome-wide association studies for complex traits: consensus, uncertainty and challenges. Nat Rev Genet. 2008 May;9(5):356-69.
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  11. Roche MI. A case of genetic counselling for Dr Watson. Nature. 2008 May 15;453(7193):281.
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  12. Pask et al. Resurrection of DNA Function In Vivo from an Extinct Genome. PLoS ONE. 2008 May 21;3(5):e2240.
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About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.