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Two Ancient DNA Studies Provide New Insights into Lives of Neanderthals and Paleolithic Humans

Image result for neanderthalTwo separate teams of researchers have used advanced DNA sequencing methods to analyze the 52,000-year-old remains of a Neanderthal woman from Vindija Cave in Croatia, and the 34,000-year-old remains of four anatomically modern humans from the Upper Paleolithic archaeological site of Sunghir. The findings are published in two papers in the journal Science.

Kay Prüfer et al. A high-coverage Neandertal genome from Vindija Cave in Croatia. Science, published online October 5, 2017; doi: 10.1126/science.aao1887

Martin Sikora et al. Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers. Science, published online October 5, 2017; doi: 10.1126/science.aao1807

Read the full article here.

One Gene Mutation May Cause Zika’s Devastating Birth Defects

Image result for zika virusSixty years ago, a team of scientists went looking for yellow fever in the jungles that line the northwestern edge of Lake Victoria. What they found instead, in the blood of a rhesus monkey, was a new virus, one they named for the area’s dense vegetation: Uganda’s Zika Forest. Within a few years, Zika virus was showing up in humans, causing a pink rash and mild flu-like symptoms. And for the next six decades, as it spread eastward on the wings of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, its symptoms stayed the same. That all changed when the virus jumped the Pacific Ocean and landed on the shores of Brazil sometime around 2014. As Zika sickened thousands, reports of microcephaly—a birth defect characterized by abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains—began pouring in from doctor’s offices and hospitals around the country. In April of last year, scientists at the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention formally declared that Zika was to blame for the microcephaly cases. Since then, researchers have been rushing to tease apart how the Zika virus went from tepid to toxic, in hopes of finding vaccine or drug targets to prevent the most devastating manifestations of the infection.

New evidence suggests it might all come down to one measly mutation.

Read the full article here.

2017 | Patrick Allard, et al – Has Toxicity Testing Moved into the 21st Century? A Survey and Analysis of Perceptions in the Field of Toxicology

Patrick Allard, ISG faculty, along with Virginia Zaunbrecher, Elizabeth Beryt, Daniela Parodi, Donatello Telesca, Joseph Doherty, and Timothy Malloy, published the paper titled “Has Toxicity Testing Moved into the 21st Century? A Survey and Analysis of Perceptions in the Field of Toxicology” in the August 2017 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.


BACKGROUND:Ten years ago, leaders in the field of toxicology called for a transformation of the discipline and a shift from primarily relying on traditional animal testing to incorporating advances in biotechnology and predictive methodologies into alternative testing strategies (ATS). Governmental agencies and academic and industry partners initiated programs to support such a transformation, but a decade later, the outcomes of these efforts are not well understood.

OBJECTIVES:We aimed to assess the use of ATS and the perceived barriers and drivers to their adoption by toxicologists and by others working in, or closely linked with, the field of toxicology.

METHODS:We surveyed 1,381 toxicologists and experts in associated fields regarding the viability and use of ATS and the perceived barriers and drivers of ATS for a range of applications. We performed ranking, hierarchical clustering, and correlation analyses of the survey data.

RESULTS:Many respondents indicated that they were already using ATS, or believed that ATS were already viable approaches, for toxicological assessment of one or more end points in their primary area of interest or concern (26–86%, depending on the specific ATS/application pair). However, the proportions of respondents reporting use of ATS in the previous 12 mo were smaller (4.5–41%). Concern about regulatory acceptance was the most commonly cited factor inhibiting the adoption of ATS, and a variety of technical concerns were also cited as significant barriers to ATS viability. The factors most often cited as playing a significant role (currently or in the future) in driving the adoption of ATS were the need for expedited toxicology information, the need for reduced toxicity testing costs, demand by regulatory agencies, and ethical or moral concerns.

CONCLUSIONS:Our findings indicate that the transformation of the field of toxicology is partly implemented, but significant barriers to acceptance and adoption remain.

UCLA Biologists Slow Aging, Extend Lifespan of Fruit Flies

In research that potentially could delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases of aging, biologists have produced a genetic one-two punch that significantly slowed aging and improved health in the middle-aged fruit flies they studied. The approach focuses on mitochondria, the tiny power generators within cells that control the cells’ growth and determine when they live and die. Mitochondria often become damaged with age, and as people grow older, those damaged mitochondria tend to accumulate in the brain, muscles and other organs. When cells can’t eliminate the damaged mitochondria, those mitochondria can become toxic and contribute to a wide range of age-related diseases, said David Walker, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology, and the study’s senior author.

The study, published Sept. 6 in the journal Nature Communications, reports that the UCLA scientists removed the damaged mitochondria by breaking up enlarged mitochondria into smaller pieces — and that when they did, the flies became more active and more energetic and had more endurance. Following the treatment, female flies lived 20 percent longer than their typical lifespan, while males lived 12 percent longer, on average.

Read the full article here.

Humans Still Evolving, Large-Scale Study of Genetic Data Shows

In a study analyzing the genomes of 210,000 people in the United States and Britain, researchers have found that the genetic variants linked to Alzheimer’s disease and heavy smoking are less frequent in people with longer lifespans, suggesting that natural selection is weeding out these unfavorable variants in both populations. “It’s a subtle signal, but we find genetic evidence that natural selection is happening in modern human populations,” said study coauthor Joseph Pickrell, an evolutionary geneticist at Columbia and New York Genome Center.

The study may be the first to take a direct look at how the human genome is evolving in a period as short as one or two generations. As more people agree to have their genomes sequenced and studied, researchers hope that information about how long they lived, and the number of kids and grandkids they had, can reveal further clues about how the human species is currently evolving.

Read the full article here.

Common Antiseptic Ingredients De-Energize Cells and Impair Hormone Response

Image result for toothpasteA new in-vitro study by University of California, Davis, researchers indicates that quaternary ammonium compounds, or “quats,” used as antimicrobial agents in common household products inhibit mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell, as well as estrogenic functions in cells. Their findings appear online today (Aug. 22) in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Quats are used as antiseptics in toothpastes, mouthwashes, lozenges, nasal sprays, eye drops, shampoos, lotions, intravaginal spermicidal sponges and household cleaners, to name a few. “Our study in cells provides a mechanism for their observations in laboratory animals,” said Sandipan Datta, a postdoctoral scholar in Cortopassi’s laboratory. “They demonstrated that quat exposure caused reproductive toxicity in both females and males. The anti-estrogenic effects we see in cells could explain the female reproductive toxicity they observed, such as less estrus cycles and lower breeding rates.”

Read the full article here.

Study Reveals White Nationalists’ Reactions When Genetics Test Results Challenge Their Identity

DNA StrandA new study by UCLA researchers reveals the range of reactions — from rejection to reinterpretation to acceptance — after white nationalists learn that DNA ancestry test results indicate they may not be as white or European as they previously thought. The study, “When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic Ancestry Testing Among White Nationalists,” is the work of UCLA researchers Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, who presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association held Aug. 14, 2017, in Montreal, Canada. Panofsky points out that based on white nationalists’ responses to genetic information upon learning their test results, there is no reason to believe that they would give up their racial ideology, and, more importantly, that genetic information cannot be relied on to change the views of white nationalists. “Many of the responses to bad news are about how to repair the damage, rather than latching onto the ideology of Stormfront,” Panofsky said. “Even though they have that idea of purity, they help people explain away or dismiss the result.”

Read the full article here.

2017 | Aaron Panofsky, et al – When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic Ancestry Testing among White Nationalists

Aaron Panofsky, ISG faculty, and Joan Donovan, former ISG postdoctoral fellow now at  Data & Society Research Institute, have published a paper titled “When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic Ancestry Testing among White Nationalists,” August 17, 2017.


This paper considers the emergence of new forms of race-making using a qualitative analysis of online discussions of individuals’ genetic ancestry test (GAT) results on the white nationalist website Stormfront. Seeking genetic confirmation of personal identities, white nationalists often confront information they consider evidence of non-white or nonEuropean ancestry. Despite their essentialist views of race, much less than using the information to police individuals’ membership, posters expend considerable energy to repair identities by rejecting or reinterpreting GAT results. Simultaneously, however, Stormfront posters use the particular relationships made visible by GATs to re-imagine the collective boundaries and constitution of white nationalism. Bricoleurs with genetic knowledge, white nationalists use a “racial realist” interpretive framework that departs from canons of genetic science but cannot be dismissed simply as ignorant.