This is a truly heartwarming story.
As a way to find his father, a man in Hawaii took an Ancestry.com DNA test. He soon discovered he shared the same birth mother as someone else using the site: his best friend of 60 years.
Now in their 60s, Walter Macfarlane and Alan Robinson of Oahu recently learned that they are half-brothers. The men, both born and raised in Hawaii, are 15 months apart in age and used to play football together in high school. Macfarlane says that he and Robinson have been playing cribbage together all their lives.
Macfarlane never knew his father, and Robinson was adopted.
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With the help of his family, Macfarlane searched for answers over the years through the internet and social media with no luck so they turned to family DNA matching websites.
“So then we started digging into all the matches he started getting,” Cindy Macfarlane-Flores, Macfarlane’s daughter, explained.
At the top of the list of DNA matches was the username Robi737.
The results showed Macfarlane and robi737 had several matches in their DNA including identical X chromosomes.
Here’s where Robinson comes in.
“As a nickname everybody called him Robi and he flew 737s for Aloha Airlines, he was a pilot,” Macfarlane-Flores says.
It turns out Robinson had also used Ancestry.com to find answers about his family.
After a few phone calls back and forth, the men learned they shared the same birth mother.
“It was a shock,” Macfarlane said.
“Yea it was shock, definitely and then we thought about it and compared forearms,” Robinson said.
Matthew Combs, a Fordham University Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station grad student worked with colleagues from Fordham and the Providence College Department of Biology to sequence the genomes of brown rats in Manhattan, and made a surprising discovery: the geography of rats has a genetic correlation, so a geneticist can tell where a rat was born and raised by analyzing its DNA. Read the rest
National Geographic interviewed geneticist Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes. "In many ways, genetics makes a mockery of race," he notes. Read the rest
In early 2016, comedian Larry David played beside Senator Bernie Sanders in an SNL skit. He also portrayed the Vermont politician in "Bern Your Enthusiasm," an SNL spoof of his own show Curb Your Enthusiasm.
David's performance was so spot-on that he received an Emmy award.
The pair learned earlier this year, by appearing on the PBS celebrity genealogy research show Finding Your Roots, that they are actually related. On Tuesday night, when the show's season four premiere aired, we got to see their reactions on learning that their DNA proves they are cousins.
Both Brooklyn natives were charmed by the news.
Sanders responded with a laugh, "You're kidding, oh my God! That's unbelievable." David remarked, "That is really funny. That is amazing. Alright, Cousin Bernie."
The field of epigenetics continues to make interesting discoveries about environmental effects on genetic material. A team led by Thomas McDade found that children's experiences affected their DNA, which in turn affected suscepitability to certain diseases. Via Smithsonian:
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Their investigation followed more than 500 children in the Philippines and found that certain childhood situations can create modifications in genes associated with inflammation, which affects how prone we are to suffer from certain illnesses. Specifically, these factors included socioeconomic status, the prolonged absence of a parent, the duration of breastfeeding, birth during the dry season, and exposure to microbes in infancy.
This cohort comprised over 3,000 pregnant women recruited in the Philippines in 1983. These women came from all different walks of life: They differed in access to clean water or a roof over their heads, whether they lived in an urban or a rural area, and whether they came into frequent contact with animals. From the data, they looked at over 500 of those women in order to figure out if their child’s environment growing up led to epigenetic modifications to their DNA—and later to a change in inflammatory proteins in their blood in adulthood.
Once their children were born, the investigators kept track of them and of the environments they were exposed to throughout their lives. Once they turned 21, the investigators took a blood sample that they used to measure the DNA methylation throughout their genome, as well as inflammation-related proteins that have been previously associated with cardiovascular diseases and other aging-related diseases.
In an astonishing step forward in biomolecular computing, Harvard researchers encoded a 19th century film clip in DNA and stored it inside living bacteria. Later, they sequenced the bacterium's genome and decoded the film. From IEEE Spectrum:
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To get a movie into E. coli’s DNA, (neuroscientist Seth) Shipman and his colleagues had to disguise it. They converted the movie’s pixels into DNA’s four-letter code—molecules represented by the letters A,T,G and C—and synthesized that DNA. But instead of generating one long strand of code, they arranged it, along with other genetic elements, into short segments that looked like fragments of viral DNA.
E. coli is naturally programmed by its own DNA to grab errant pieces of viral DNA and store them in its own genome—a way of keeping a chronological record of invaders. So when the researchers introduced the pieces of movie-turned-synthetic DNA—disguised as viral DNA—E. coli’s molecular machinery grabbed them and filed them away.
No wonder Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David did such a great job impersonating presidential candidate Bernie Sanders last year on Saturday Night Live. The two are apparently related, perhaps as distant cousins.
According to NBC News:
Sanders is a "third cousin or something," David told reporters at a Television Critics Association event on Wednesday. The comedian, who impersonated the senator on "Saturday Night Live" during the 2016 election, said he learned about the genealogical connection while filming an upcoming episode of the PBS series "Finding Your Roots."
"I was very happy about that," David said, according to Variety. "I thought there must have been some connection."
We're still waiting to see how Sanders feels about his new extended family member.
Here's a fascinating story about advances in forensic anthropology based around a creepy case of an archaeologist who had several open coffins full of human remains in his home. He said they were all legally taken from ancient Guatemalan sites, but new forensics methods showed that some of the bones were pretty new and of different races than the archaeologist claimed. Read the rest
A team of Israeli scientists devised a system by which a person can use their thoughts alone to trigger tiny DNA-based nanorobots inside a living creature to release a drug. Read the rest
The Turkish five lira note, issued in 2009, has a DNA helix. But Nobel laureate Aziz Sancar noticed that the note "shows a left-handed Z-DNA helix winding from left to right, when it should be the other way round." What Sancar doesn't know is that the monetary systems of the world are controlled by the lizard people, whose DNA is exactly like that depicted on the banknote. Read the rest
The U.S. government estimates that hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits languish in police and crime lab storage facilities. The EndTheBacklog project illustrates that there's "more we do NOT know about the backlog than we do know." Read the rest