Slelling, Genetic Avatars, and Mail Order Chewing Gum Impregnated with your DNA

In David Zindell’s space opera Neverness, the term “slel” is introduced to describe the misappropriation of someone else’s DNA. In a review of Zindell’s book, Orson Scott Card gives us the following definition:

Slel: To take DNA from someone against his will, to create avatars of him, or perhaps children.

Last week Hsien documented the recent efforts of UK police to make slelling a standard practice.

I’ve got two riffs on slelling for you: (1) genetic avatars and (2) DNA bubble gum.

Read more

My Genographic Project Results

The migratory route of my deep ancestors:


A depiction of my Y-chromosome showing the short-tandem repeats that were tested:


More information on the Genographic Project.

Critics Circle: Genographic Project

First crop of critics of the Genographic Project have emerged.  Here is an overview:

  1. involving the public may not be useful, involving the public is expensive, the volume of respondents may be surprisingly high (Andrew Paterson, a scientist at the genetics and genomic biology group at the Sick Kids Research Institute)
  2. control over sample collection is weak, self-reporting is often inaccurate, look-out for contamination of samples (Steven Scherer, senior scientist at the genetics and genomic biology group at the Sick Kids Research Institute)
  3. should have gone the extra mile and made a biobank of the DNA samples (Kenneth K. Kidd, professor of genetics and psychiatry at Yale Med)
  4. should have used DNA Genotek’s Oragene kit rather than buccal swabs (company CEO Ian Curry)

Sarah Lysecki. "National Geographic’s DNA database raises doubts", 4/18/2005.

Update 4/21/05

The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism objects to the Genographic Project and Spencer Wells responds.

Genographic Video


See here.

BioHistory Part II

In early April I wrote about The Chicago Historical Society’s efforts to examine the implications of biohistorical analysis.  If you recall, the Chicago Historical Society (CHS) faced a dilemma regarding whether to allow genetic testing of materials presumably containing blood from Abe Lincoln.  Various parties were interested in peforming analysese on this material in order to determine whether Lincoln had Marfan Syndrome.  So, the CHS commissioned a review of professional codes in order establish guidelines for biohistorical analysis.  This group published an article in Science describing their efforts (a web-enhanced version is availble for free too):

Lori Andrews et al. Constructing Ethical Guidelines for Biohistory. Science April 9 2004.

Today AMNews published a nice article following up on this story:

Andis Robeznieks. Uncloaking history: The ethics of digging up the past. AMNews. June 28, 2004.


Biological Materials as Historical Artifacts

Does medical privacy last beyond the grave?  Historical artifacts that are biological materials, such as a lock of Beethoven’s hair or the blood of Lincoln–in the form of stains on bed sheets–can provide answers to historical questions: Were opiates included in the more than 75 medicines given to Beethoven on his deathbed?  Did Lincoln have Marfan syndrome?

This article describes the activities of a one interdisciplinary group organized by the Chicago Historical Society to look at these questions.

Glennda Chui, Rules Sought for Genetic Sleuths, Mercury News, April 9, 2004.