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Sequencing, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: A look at Ozzy’s genome

All aboard

Scientists have stepped up to take a ride on the rails of the crazy train, sequencing and analyzing the full genome of heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne.

And if you thought all rock stars were Neanderthals who bark at the moon, at least in the case of Ozzy Osbourne, you’d be partially right.

Known as the Prince of Darkness and the beheader of bats and birds, the deeper question might be just what the genetic code will reveal about the former Black Sabbath frontman.

In a recent column in the Sunday Times of London, Osbourne admitted his skepticism for the project. “The only Gene I know anything about is the one in Kiss,” he wrote.

Then, he wondered if, just maybe, he might have something to offer science.  He stopped being paranoid and stepped up to the plate for science.

“I was curious,” he wrote in his column. “Given the swimming pools of booze I’ve guzzled over the years—not to mention all of the cocaine, morphine, sleeping pills, cough syrup, LSD, Rohypnol…you name it—there’s really no plausible medical reason why I should still be alive. Maybe my DNA could say why.”

As it turns out, Osbourne has said that if genetic testing determines he has a risk of developing an untreatable disease such as Alzheimer’s, he’d rather not know about it.

In July, the Prince of Darkness let a little blood for Cofactor Genomics, a St. Louis–based company, to sequence. Knome Inc., which also helped raise money for the project, analyzed the data.

With that, Ozzy joined the likes of DNA co-discoverer James Watson and Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates on the short roster of people to have their full genome sequenced and analyzed.

Osbourne and his wife, Sharon, talked about the heavy metal singer’s genome sequencing test at the TEDMED conference in San Diego.

The couple joined several genetics experts at the four-day TEDMED conference, which ended Oct. 29 at the Hotel del Coronado. About 600 people paid $4,000 each to attend the series of short talks delivered by leading scientists, authors, executives and celebrities.

Osbourne has spent decades living the rock and roll lifestyle. Because of his fast-living past, he wondered just why anyone would want to do such research one someone who spent decades abusing alcohol and drugs and took self-destructive behavior to an art form.

He also didn’t understand the potential for the testing. .

“I must confess that I don’t really understand this,” Osbourne told the TEDMED audience. “I find it interesting, but I don’t really understand what it means.”

Sharon Osbourne convinced him to take the test, though she admitted that her motives were selfish.

“I’ve always said that at the end of the world, there would be roaches, Ozzy and Keith Richards,” she said. “It’s fascinating to me how his body can endure so much, and he’s still going. I was just really fascinated by his body chemistry.”

According to the analysis, Osbourne has about 300,000 novel variants, a figure similar to that of other newly sequenced genomes. (The number of novel variants discovered per genome will fall as more people are sequenced.)

I guess nobody should be surprised that among the things revealed by the test is that Osbourne has a higher than average chance of being an alcoholic.

Additionally, he doesn’t metabolize caffeine very well, has a gene tied to smelling limitations and is a distant relative of comedian Stephen Colbert, some of the people who died nearly 1,000 years ago at Pompeii, Italy, during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and prehistoric Neanderthals.

Osbourne also carries a variant in the ADH4 gene that may well explain “his ability to ingest enormous quantities of alcohol” without killing himself, Jorge Conde, co-founder of Knome Inc., told the Toronto Star.

“If there’s a gene for addictive behavior, you’d have thought mine would be written in pink neon,” Osbourne reflected in his column in the Sunday Times.

He also has a variation of a gene known as AVPR1A that was linked to musical abilities in 2009 by researchers who studied the genetic makeup of 19 families in Finland.

“We certainly want to sample a larger sample of musicians to explore that,” said Nathaniel Pearson, a geneticist with Knome.

Most unusually, the analysis found that Osbourne carries two versions of the COMT gene: both the warrior and the worrier variant.

“Those two sides of my personality sum me up perfectly,” Osbourne told the TEDMED crowd.

He doesn’t have any of the markers tied to Alzheimer’s risk, and his wife checked those results before they were given to him.

The blood sample taken from Ozzy Osbourne in July was sequenced in a machine made by Life Technologies of Carlsbad, Calif.

At TEDMED, Life Technologies Chief Executive Greg Lucier showed off the company’s new Personal Genome Machine, which uses tiny chemical pH meters to identify DNA base pairs.

Other sequencers use chemical color tags, lasers, high-tech cameras and super computers in a process that takes more time and costs more money.

Lucier said medical science is on the cusp of a genomics revolution.

“We’re finding new gene associations (with diseases) each and every day,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “There is incredible momentum happening (among physicians) to learn genomics and apply it to care.”

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November 2, 2010 - Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Corporate, Labwork & Science, Uncategorized | , , , ,

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