order online: bits of deadly virii

The Guardian reports they ordered a chunk of the smallpox virus DNA sequence online from a molecular biology supply company. It's not as dire as it might sound: you gotta have graduate-level expertise and more than a kitchen sink to recombine DNA sequences. What was interesting was that there is no across-the-board screening of all material sent out. The company that provided the DNA don't screen sequence below 100 bp against a database of potentially harmful organisms, and there's no standard regulations about the screening process. The Guardian ordered their sequence with a couple stop codons added to comply with safety and legal regulations, but it will be interesting to see if there are any developments from this, and also, how the rest of the media picks up on it.

ETA 15/7: Nature discusses the article and frowns upon the Guardian, highlighting that ordering bits of DNA is routine for the research community even though it might shock the general public, and pretty much disapproves of such a "stunt". I still think the attention it draws to the inconsistencies in the regulatory process is the interesting point. And also? Of course Gn. Public might be suprised by what you can buy over the internet–there's no need to flash your boffin-club badge about it and act all jaded, Nature Editors.

paper: unexpected NRY chromosome variation in Melanesia

Unexpected NRY chromosome variation in Northern Island Melanesia
Scheinfeldt et al
Molecular Biology and Evolution, Advance Access

To investigate the paternal population history of populations in Northern Island Melanesia, 685 paternally unrelated males from 36 populations in this region and New Guinea were analyzed at 14 regionally informative binary markers and seven short-tandem-repeat loci from the non-recombining portion of the Y chromosome. Three newly defined binary markers (K6-P79, K7-P117, and M2-P87) aided in identifying considerable heterozygosity that would have otherwise gone undetected. Judging from their geographic distributions and network analyses of their associated short-tandem-repeat profiles, four lineages appear to have developed in this region and to be of considerable age: K6-P79, K7-P117, M2-P87, and M2a-P22. The origins of K5-M230 and M-M4 are also confirmed as being located further west, probably in New Guinea. In the 25 adequately sampled populations, the number of different haplogroups ranged from two in the single most isolated group (the Aita of Bougainville), to nine, and measures of molecular diversity were generally not particularly low. The resulting pattern contradicts earlier findings that suggested far lower male-mediated diversity and gene exchange rates in the region. However, these earlier studies had not included the newly defined haplogroups. We could only identify a very weak signal of recent male Southeast Asian genetic influence (<10%), which was almost entirely restricted to Austronesian (Oceanic) speaking groups. This contradicts earlier assumptions on the ancestral composition of these groups and requires a revision of hypotheses concerning the settlement of the islands of the central Pacific, which commenced from this region.

Have yet to digest this and its implications, will read it today and update. The emphasis is mine, as it is the intriguing part.

ashkenazi founder event

The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry: Portrait of a Recent Founder Event
Behar, D. M.; Metspalu, E.; Kivisild, T.; Achilli, A.; Hadid, Y.; Tzur, S.; Pereira, L.; Amorim, A.; Quintana-Murci, L.; Majamaa, K.


Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only 4 women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.