Students at Soldan International High School are participating in an amazing experiment and breaking ground that most science teachers fear to tread. Soldan students, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, are participating in the National Geographic's Genographic Project. Through this project, students send in cheek swabs, DNA is isolated from the cheek cells, and genetic markers are used to look at ancestry. Genetic markers in the mitochondrial DNA are used to trace ancestry through the maternal line and markers on the Y chromosome can be used to learn about one ... Read more
Last year I wrote about an experiment where I compared a human mitochondrial DNA sequence to primate sequences in the GenBank. Since I wanted to know about the differences between humans, gorillas, and chimps, I used the Entrez query 'Great Apes' to limit my search to a set of sequences in the PopSet database that contained gorillas, bonobos, chimps, and human DNA. A week ago, I tried to repeat this experiment and...

It didn't work.

All I saw were human ... Read more

Metagenomics is a field where people interrogate the living world by isolating and sequencing nucleic acids. Since all living things have DNA, and viruses have either DNA or RNA, we can identify who's around by looking at bits of their genome. Researchers are using this approach to find the culprit that's killing the honeybees. We're also trying to find out who else shares our bodies, and lives in our skin, in our stomachs, and other places where the sun doesn't shine. Craig Venter used ... Read more
The simple fact is this: some DNA sequences are more believable than others. The problem is, that many students and researchers never see any of the metrics that we use for evaluating whether a sequence is "good" and whether a sequence is "bad." All they see are the base calls and sequences: ATAGATAGACGAGTAG, without any supporting information to help them evaluate if the sequence is correct. If DNA sequencing and personalized genetic testing are to become commonplace, the practice of ignoring data quality is (in my opinion) simply unacceptable. So, for awhile anyway, I'm ... Read more
We have lots of DNA samples from bacteria that were isolated from dirt. Now it's time to our own metagenomics project and figure out what they are. Our class project is on a much smaller scale than the honeybee metagenomics project that I wrote about yesterday, but we're using many of the same principles. The general process is this:
  • 1. We sort the chromatogram data to identify good data and separate it from bad data. Informatics can help you determine if data is
  • ... Read more
The next time you bite into a crisp juicy apple and the tart juices spill out around your tongue, remember the honeybee. Our fall harvest depends heavily on honeybees carrying pollen from plant to plant. Luscious fruits and vegetables wouldn't grace our table, were it not for the honeybees and other pollinators. i-5b72428eaa872c6d705e8a3dfcbe8139-bee.pngLately though, the buzz about our furry little helpers hasn't been good. ... Read more
Would you like to have some fun playing with chromatograms and helping our class identify bacteria in the dirt? This quarter, my bioinformatics class, at Shoreline Community College, will be working with chromatograms that were obtained by students at Johns Hopkins University, and graciously made available by Dr. Rebecca Pearlman. (See see "Sequencing the campus at the Johns Hopkins University" for more background.) We are going to do a bit of metagenomics by using FinchTV and ... Read more
It's hard to teach bioinformatics when schools work so hard to keep us from using computers. Anecdotes from the past Back in my days as a full-time instructor, I fought many battles with our IT department. Like many colleges, we had a few centralized computer labs, tightly controlled by IT (aka the IT nazis), where students were supposed to go to do their computing. Instructors also had a centralized computer lab, but over the years, we gained the right to have computers in our offices. Our major battle was whether or not we'd be allowed to use Macs ... Read more
Welcome Bio256 students! This quarter, we're going to do some very cool things. We are going to use bioinformatics resources and tools to investigate some biological questions. My goal, is for you to remember that these resources exist and hopefully, be able to use them when you're out working in the biotech world. I don't believe that bioinformatics is a subject that you can really grasp without getting your fingers dirty. So, this course will include a lot of hands-on work. My friend and collaborator at Johns Hopkins University has given me data sets from the past three years and ... Read more
A few weeks ago, I did some "back-of-the-envelope" calculations to explain to a reader why genome sequencing costs so much. I estimated that, if JCV's genome were sequenced at the cost advertised by university core laboratories, his genome would cost about $128 million. That was an estimate, of course. But what did it really cost? Genome Technology asked J. Craig himself. In the October 2007 issue of GT, JCV estimates that the cost from the first Celera human genome project ( ... Read more

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