Celebrating DNA Day 2022
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The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) started celebrating DNA day each year after the 108th Congress designated this data to be “DNA Day”.
The NHGRI states that the goal of DNA Day is to provide students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research, and understand how such advances currently – or may in the future – impact their lives.
Here at Technology Networks, we are celebrating DNA Day 2022 by highlighting some of the incredible research that we have covered in genomics over the last year.
The First Complete Human Genome Sequence Is Published
When the HGP was declared complete in 2003, it wasn’t “technically” finished; rather, it was finalized to the best of our ability at that time.
Since its conception as part of the HGP, the standard reference human genome – known as Genome Reference Consortium build 38, or GRCh38 – has been continuously updated, closing some of the “gaps” in the genome – and our knowledge. But it hadn’t been fully completed, until now.
March 31 represented a pivotal moment for the scientific community, as the first “gapless” sequence of the human genome – T2T-CHM13 – was published.
Sailing the Genome in Search of Safe Harbors
Cell and gene therapies are poised to have a major impact on the landscape of modern medicine, carrying the potential to treat an array of different diseases with unmet clinical need. However, their potential cannot be realized if we are unable to “land” therapeutic genes in the human genome safely, without causing off-target effects.
Researchers from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the ETH Zurich in Switzerland have identified a solution. In their work, published in Cell Report Methods, the scientists focused on identifying “safe spots” in the genome. These locations, known as genomic safe harbors (GSHs), are positions in the genome that meet the following criteria: they can be accessed easily by genome-editing strategies, are within a safe distance from genes that possess functional properties and permit expression of a therapeutic gene, only once it has “landed” in the harbor.
The research team used computational strategies to identify 2,000 predicted GSHs. From this initial identification, they successfully validated two of the sites both in vitro and in vivo using reporter proteins.
A Coronavirus Epidemic Took Place 20,000 Years Ago
The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the potential threat zoonotic viruses pose for public health. Genomics research is being conducted across the world to understand how viruses evolve, mutate and spread, in order to help us predict future outbreaks. Taking a look at the past helps these efforts too.
SARS-CoV-2 is not the first coronavirus humanity has encountered. It’s likely that, at some point in your life, you have been infected by a "sibling" of the virus that belongs to the same Coronaviridae family. The same applies to our ancestors. A collaborative research study analyzed genetic data from the 1000 Genomes Project, discovering that a coronavirus epidemic occurred in East Asia over 20,000 years ago. The study is published in Current Biology.
The Pursuit of Global, Sustainable and Cooperative Open Science
In 2021, managing editor Laura Lansdowne had the pleasure of speaking with Nobel Prize Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, who was co-awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She received the Nobel for her research discovering the molecular structure of telomeres and the enzyme telomerase, which is a critical component of cellular division and the replication of DNA. In their conversation, Blackburn discussed her prolific career, admirable contributions to science and why she is advocating for sustainable, cooperative and open science.
Technology Networks asks Professor Gene Robinson, a pioneer in the utilization of genomics for studying social behavior, what is the greatest thing about working in DNA research?
“The greatest aspect of working in research relating to the study of DNA is that this research impacts so many areas of science and society. We are still in the early stages of the "genomics revolution," and like the digital revolution that started 50 years ago, the effects of the genomics revolution are far-reaching and only beginning to be felt.”
Return From Extinction
The prospect of "reviving" an extinct species – or a genetic hybrid version of it – moved closer to reality in 2021. The field of “de-extinction” harnesses the sophistication of genome engineering technologies and advances in sequencing archaic DNA to reconstruct the genomes of extinct organisms. Once reconstructed, it’s possible that such genomes could be inserted into living relatives of the organism. Pioneers in biotech – like Professor George Church – are exploring the prospect and feasibility of de-extincting organisms such as the woolly mammoth. Technology Networks interviewed Church to find out more.