DNA Day experts answer your questions about DNA sequences

20 April 2012

Above: Image © zmeel, iStockphoto.com

How useful is the information from SNPs from DNA sequencings provided by companies like "23andMe" currently to doctors in Canadian hospitals?

I'm not a clinical geneticist, so sorry, I don't have a good answer for that. But the common SNP panels that such companies run are primarily about risk factors, which can be an area to open up a discussion with your doctor.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

How is it that it's being proposed that DNA can be used to health scans(on health cards)? How far into the future will we see this and how will it work?

The Human DNA sequence has been decoded since 2000. Since then, the cost of acquiring this information has decreased tremendously. It is expected that it will be "affordable" in the next few years. I am not sure about "health cards" but certainly, it will be possible to obtain the your DNA information in the near future for ~100$, less than a pair of glasses.

- Answer provided by Dr. Sylvie Cloutier

Can a DNA sequence die or decay?

Hmm, well I wouldn't say that it can die, but it can decay. DNA when it is separated from everything else is surprisingly stable, and very old segments of DNA have been found in archeological samples. But, in the normal course of cellular life, DNA from dead or dying cells is broken down by enzymes that cut it into smaller fragments and eventually degrade it completely.

- Answer provided by Dr. Karen Bedard

If there are some parts of the human DNA sequence that don' t serve any apparent purpose, why can' t they just be cut out to simplify everything?

There are regions of DNA that today do not seem to have a function but it does not mean it is not important. Sometimes when we cut out specific regions of DNA it does not seem to have an effect on the cell, however during life cycles, development and perhaps evolution these regions would offer some benefit. In synthetic biology there is research going on in bacteria, to determine what is the minimal genome it needs to survive.

- Answer provided by Dr. Dennis McCormac

How is DNA sequence determined?

Complicated chemistry but essentially you look for matches between sequences you already know and the sequence that you're trying to find out.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

In class, students recently isolated their own DNA from cells in their mouth. Will we ever be able to determine our individual DNA sequences? How might this information help our individual health?

We are sequencing individual genomes on a regular basis already. Compared to 13 years ago, when the first draft of the human genome was published after decades of work and huge expense, technology has evolved by leaps and bounds. We can now do it for a fraction of the cost and much faster. While still not at the level of routine diagnostics, I predict it will get there. This will revolutionize medicine, although has some ethical implications yet to be fully resolved.

- Answer provided by Dr. Aaron Goodarzi


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