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A mathematician by training, I discovered genetics in 2006 and never turned back. This blog was born to share all the fascinating things I learn about genes and DNA through my current research on viral genetics and HIV.

EE Giorgi
185 posts

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  • May 13, 2016
  • 09:21 AM
  • 284 views

Using Supercomputers to Probe the Early Universe

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Artist's depiction of the WMAP satellite gathering data to understand the Big Bang. Source: NASA.For decades physicists have been trying to decipher the first moments after the Big Bang. Using very large telescopes, for example, scientists scan the skies and look at how fast galaxies move. Satellites study the relic radiation left from the Big Bang, called the cosmic microwave background radiation. And finally, particle colliders, like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, allow researchers to smas........ Read more »

  • April 29, 2016
  • 09:38 AM
  • 308 views

Hunting For The Signatures of Cancer

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Signatures of Mutational Processes Extracted from the Mutational Catalogs of 21 Breast Cancer Genomes. Credit:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2012.12.008Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer related deaths each year (Source: WHO). A family history of cancer typically increases a person's risk of developing the disease, yet most cancer cases have no family history at all. This suggests that a combination of both ge........ Read more »

Siegel, R., Miller, K., & Jemal, A. (2015) Cancer statistics, 2015. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 65(1), 5-29. DOI: 10.3322/caac.21254  

Alexandrov LB. (2015) Understanding the origins of human cancer. Science (New York, N.Y.), 350(6265), 1175. PMID: 26785464  

Alexandrov LB, Nik-Zainal S, Wedge DC, Aparicio SA, Behjati S, Biankin AV, Bignell GR, Bolli N, Borg A, Børresen-Dale AL.... (2013) Signatures of mutational processes in human cancer. Nature, 500(7463), 415-21. PMID: 23945592  

Alexandrov LB, Nik-Zainal S, Siu HC, Leung SY, & Stratton MR. (2015) A mutational signature in gastric cancer suggests therapeutic strategies. Nature communications, 8683. PMID: 26511885  

  • April 22, 2016
  • 10:10 AM
  • 265 views

Digging For Clues About Climate Change

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Guest post by Rebecca McDonald, science writerPhoto Credit: LeRoy N. Sanchez While many scientists who study climate change look up to the sky for clues about the Earth’s future, one researcher has spent her career looking down—at the abundance of life in the soil below. Innumerable microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi live in harmony with plant roots, decomposing fallen leaves and dead animals. In addition to acting as the ultimate recyclers, they also stabilize the soil and help to re........ Read more »

  • April 8, 2016
  • 09:56 AM
  • 335 views

The Antibacterial Resistance Threat: Are We Heading Toward a Post-Antibiotic Era?

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Source: PEW Charitable TrustsThe above graphic, from the Antibiotic Resistance Project by the PEW charitable trusts, summarizes how alarming the emergence of drug resistant bacterial strains has gotten over the past few decades. According to data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), every year 2 million Americans acquire drug-resistant infections [1], in other words infections that do not respond to treatment with ordinary antibiotics. Not only do drug-resistant infections require muc........ Read more »

Hollis, A., & Ahmed, Z. (2013) Preserving Antibiotics, Rationally. New England Journal of Medicine, 369(26), 2474-2476. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1311479  

Cherednichenko, G., Zhang, R., Bannister, R., Timofeyev, V., Li, N., Fritsch, E., Feng, W., Barrientos, G., Schebb, N., Hammock, B.... (2012) Triclosan impairs excitation-contraction coupling and Ca2 dynamics in striated muscle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(35), 14158-14163. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1211314109  

Van Boeckel, T., Brower, C., Gilbert, M., Grenfell, B., Levin, S., Robinson, T., Teillant, A., & Laxminarayan, R. (2015) Global trends in antimicrobial use in food animals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(18), 5649-5654. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1503141112  

  • April 1, 2016
  • 10:12 AM
  • 342 views

Allergies: Can Too Much Hygiene Actually Harm Us?

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

It's that time of the year again. You step out of the house and your eyes itch, your nose starts running and your head feels like an empty balloon. Yes, it's allergy season again. Even the resilient ones, give them enough time and eventually they will develop some form of allergic reaction. But what are allergies and why do so many people suffer from them?Allergies are a glitch in our immune system. The immune system is built to recognize and destroy pathogens -- potential threats like viruses........ Read more »

Ziska, L., Knowlton, K., Rogers, C., Dalan, D., Tierney, N., Elder, M., Filley, W., Shropshire, J., Ford, L., Hedberg, C.... (2011) Recent warming by latitude associated with increased length of ragweed pollen season in central North America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(10), 4248-4251. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1014107108  

Platts-Mills, T. (2015) The allergy epidemics: 1870-2010. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 136(1), 3-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2015.03.048  

Strachan DP. (1989) Hay fever, hygiene, and household size. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 299(6710), 1259-60. PMID: 2513902  

Molloy, J., Allen, K., Collier, F., Tang, M., Ward, A., & Vuillermin, P. (2013) The Potential Link between Gut Microbiota and IgE-Mediated Food Allergy in Early Life. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(12), 7235-7256. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph10127235  

  • March 23, 2016
  • 09:05 AM
  • 387 views

We Agree to Disagree: The Science of Why Your Political Posts Won’t Make Anyone Change Their Mind

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

In today's heated political stage, where everyone has a soapbox thanks to outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the personal blogs, I've tried my best not to share my political views publicly. And I've miserably failed. I use my own Facebook page and profile to talk about science, books and photography, but then I can't resist browsing other people's posts. Most of my friends are not as shy as me about making their political views heard and that's when I fall into the trap: I comment........ Read more »

Patterson, R., Operskalski, J., & Barbey, A. (2015) Motivated explanation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00559  

  • March 16, 2016
  • 09:59 AM
  • 423 views

An open letter to all science lovers who want to defend science ... please don't.

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Last week I had an animated discussion on Facebook over an older post in which I describe some literature I dug out on possible (underline “possible”!) correlations with autism. True, my post is highly incomplete, but it was meant as a discussion starter to point at things that scientists have been looking at in an attempt to unravel what feels like a rise in autism. Is autism the new childhood plague of our modern society or has it always been around and we just became more aware of it? And........ Read more »

Kushak RI, Buie TM, Murray KF, Newburg DS, Chen C, Nestoridi E, & Winter HS. (2016) Evaluation of Intestinal Function in Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Symptoms. Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. PMID: 26913756  

Heijtz, R., Wang, S., Anuar, F., Qian, Y., Bjorkholm, B., Samuelsson, A., Hibberd, M., Forssberg, H., & Pettersson, S. (2011) Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 3047-3052. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1010529108  

Mulle, J., Sharp, W., & Cubells, J. (2013) The Gut Microbiome: A New Frontier in Autism Research. Current Psychiatry Reports, 15(2). DOI: 10.1007/s11920-012-0337-0  

  • February 18, 2016
  • 09:15 AM
  • 369 views

Ice caps melt, prehistoric virus escapes. No, it's not a movie.

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Last week I talked about the connection between global warming and the Zika virus. This week I'll discuss another interesting side effect we might observe in the next decade thanks to global warming. The ice caps will melt. Big deal, we already knew that. But have you ever thought of the stuff trapped in that ice that's going to thaw? What if some of that stuff isn't really dead, just dormant, waiting to come back? Sounds like fiction, but it's not.Up until a few years ago the general notion was........ Read more »

Philippe, N., Legendre, M., Doutre, G., Coute, Y., Poirot, O., Lescot, M., Arslan, D., Seltzer, V., Bertaux, L., Bruley, C.... (2013) Pandoraviruses: Amoeba Viruses with Genomes Up to 2.5 Mb Reaching That of Parasitic Eukaryotes. Science, 341(6143), 281-286. DOI: 10.1126/science.1239181  

Legendre, M., Bartoli, J., Shmakova, L., Jeudy, S., Labadie, K., Adrait, A., Lescot, M., Poirot, O., Bertaux, L., Bruley, C.... (2014) Thirty-thousand-year-old distant relative of giant icosahedral DNA viruses with a pandoravirus morphology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(11), 4274-4279. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320670111  

  • February 15, 2016
  • 12:50 PM
  • 373 views

Decoding the Dark Matter of the Human Genome

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

First appeared on my Huffington Post blog on February 15, 2016.  In 1994, researchers from Harvard and Stanford published a paper in which they described three mice: one was yellow and fat, one mottled and fat, and the last one was brown and lean. An ordinary image, except for one thing: despite being so different, all three mice were genetically identical. If their genes were exactly the same, what was causing such striking differences in the mice?Three genetically identical mice that do n........ Read more »

Duhl DM, Vrieling H, Miller KA, Wolff GL, & Barsh GS. (1994) Neomorphic agouti mutations in obese yellow mice. Nature genetics, 8(1), 59-65. PMID: 7987393  

Sanbonmatsu KY, Joseph S, & Tung CS. (2005) Simulating movement of tRNA into the ribosome during decoding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102(44), 15854-9. PMID: 16249344  

Sanbonmatsu KY. (2016) Towards structural classification of long non-coding RNAs. Biochimica et biophysica acta, 1859(1), 41-5. PMID: 26537437  

  • February 12, 2016
  • 09:20 AM
  • 407 views

The Zika outbreak: a wake-up call about climate change?

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

People are still talking about the Ebola virus and its deadly outbreak in West Africa, and now a new virus is making the headlines: mostly innocuous and fairly unknown until a few weeks ago, the Zika virus is suddenly dominating the news for its putative link with a congenital birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and undeveloped brains. But what is the Zika virus, and how can it be harmless to most people yet cause such harm to an unborn fetus? To answer this qu........ Read more »

Paul Shapshak , Charurut Somboonwit, Brian T. Foley, Sally F. Alrabaa, Todd Wills, John T. Sinnott. (2015) Zika Virus. Global Virology I - Identifying and Investigating Viral Diseases. Springer-Verlag. info:/

  • January 29, 2016
  • 10:14 AM
  • 403 views

The fossils hidden in our genome: geneticists turn into archeologists ... sort of.

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

I often blog about viruses because, well, I work on viruses. Here's a quick summary of things I've blogged about that I find absolutely mind-blowing:1. About 10% of the human genome is made of genes we inherited from viruses that had replicated in our ancestors millions of years ago. 2. Viruses evolve as their hosts evolve (The Red Queen Effect), and in fact we can retrace their evolution in parallel with that of their hosts. The same is true within a single host, enabling us to retrace the evol........ Read more »

  • January 8, 2016
  • 11:04 AM
  • 395 views

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are here. And Americans should read them.

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Rigatoni pomodorini e tonno. Today the FDA released the updated Dietary Recommendations for the USA. The whole document is available on the Internet for free, and you should read it:http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/People are going to hate me for this post, but I'm going to post it anyway because somebody needs to say it. When I open Facebook, half of the posts are about how women should love their bodies. What gets me is that nobody says that loving your body is not only........ Read more »

  • December 18, 2015
  • 10:11 AM
  • 497 views

Scientists reproduce a stress-induced phenotype in mouse pups thanks to epigenetic reprogramming

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

© Elena E. GiorgiI'm excited to be blogging about science again, albeit only occasionally. Those of you who have been following the blog from its very beginnings, back in 2011, know that I've always been fascinated with epigenetics, one of my favorite topics to discuss. So much so that I've managed to include it into the plot of my detective thriller Chimeras. The thrills in the book are fictional, but the science is all real.I was talking with my colleague Karissa Sanbonmatsu last week, who's ........ Read more »

Rodgers AB, Morgan CP, Bronson SL, Revello S, & Bale TL. (2013) Paternal stress exposure alters sperm microRNA content and reprograms offspring HPA stress axis regulation. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 33(21), 9003-12. PMID: 23699511  

  • December 12, 2015
  • 12:04 PM
  • 504 views

Hunting for the signatures of cancer

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Today I'm proud to introduce you to a talented postdoctoral fellow in my own group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. No, I had nothing to do with his work, which is why I can discuss it without any competing interests. Ours is the Theoretical Biology group, and what that means is that we do biology from a purely theoretical perspective: we design analytical models and analyze data from experiments. Sounds trivial, but it's not, and it takes the joint forces of people coming from the most di........ Read more »

  • November 1, 2015
  • 12:00 PM
  • 452 views

How one vaccine can protect you from more than one disease

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

The paper I'm discussing today came out last May in Science but, as you probably noticed, I've been busy posting about other things and neglected the science aspect of the CHIMERAS blog. Apologies to my science readers.Viruses are pesky little things that have the innate ability of inserting genetic material into our cells. As such, they are capable of permanently changing our immune system: for one thing, our immune system learns to recognize the pathogen and that "memory" will be used to preve........ Read more »

  • March 2, 2015
  • 09:52 AM
  • 643 views

Extinction Edge: a new thriller on how epigenetic changes induced by viruses could kill us all

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Today my friend Nicholas Sansbury Smith releases Extinction Edge, the sequel to Extinction Horizon, a sci-fi thriller where humanity is driven to extinction by a lethal virus. I posted an interview with Nick for the release of his first book, but today I wanted to talk about the science behind his premise: can a virus induce epigenetic changes?In a way, Nick's premise is similar to the premise I used in Chimeras: a large part of our DNA is made of pseudogenes, which are ancient genes that are no........ Read more »

  • February 23, 2015
  • 12:38 AM
  • 549 views

Yes, autism is on the rise. Read this before blaming vaccines.

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Waiting for the rain, © EEGBecause I work on HIV vaccine design, lately I've often been involved in debates concerning the safety of vaccines. I have the greatest respect for parents who struggle with disabilities of any kind, especially in children. I'm a parent too and can't even imagine what life is like when your child has a permanent disability. But I'm also a scientist, and I believe in the good cause of my work. My boss has been working day and night for thirty years on a vaccine again........ Read more »

Kalkbrenner AE, Windham GC, Serre ML, Akita Y, Wang X, Hoffman K, Thayer BP, & Daniels JL. (2015) Particulate matter exposure, prenatal and postnatal windows of susceptibility, and autism spectrum disorders. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 26(1), 30-42. PMID: 25286049  

Al-Farsi YM, Al-Sharbati MM, Waly MI, Al-Farsi OA, Al-Shafaee MA, Al-Khaduri MM, Trivedi MS, & Deth RC. (2012) Effect of suboptimal breast-feeding on occurrence of autism: a case-control study. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 28(7-8). PMID: 22541054  

Mulle, J., Sharp, W., & Cubells, J. (2013) The Gut Microbiome: A New Frontier in Autism Research. Current Psychiatry Reports, 15(2). DOI: 10.1007/s11920-012-0337-0  

Arrieta, M., Stiemsma, L., Amenyogbe, N., Brown, E., & Finlay, B. (2014) The Intestinal Microbiome in Early Life: Health and Disease. Frontiers in Immunology. DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2014.00427  

Sandler RH, Finegold SM, Bolte ER, Buchanan CP, Maxwell AP, Väisänen ML, Nelson MN, & Wexler HM. (2000) Short-term benefit from oral vancomycin treatment of regressive-onset autism. Journal of child neurology, 15(7), 429-35. PMID: 10921511  

  • February 15, 2015
  • 11:32 AM
  • 698 views

Brain mosaicism and altered gene copy numbers could explain Alzheimer's

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

© EEGI've tackled the problem of the missing heritability in the past, i.e. the fact that despite all the research on genetic studies and disease associations, we can explain only a small fraction of cancers and disorders. Today we know a lot more than what we knew back when the human genome project was completed, and in particular we know how much we don't know. I think we are only beginning to understand the complexity of human diseases and genetics. Back when I started working on disease ass........ Read more »

  • February 8, 2015
  • 10:59 AM
  • 630 views

The immortality paradox part II: can we rejuvenate cells without making them "immortal"?

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

I've talked about the immortality paradox in an older post, but today I would like to continue the discussion in light of a recently published paper on telomere lengths. The paper is a bit of a spoiler alert from my detective thriller Chimeras. Given that my detective has some screwed up genes, it seemed natural that he would solve crimes revolving around genetics and, in particular, its exploitations in the medical and pharmaceutical world. One of such exploitations in my book is a magic........ Read more »

Ramunas J, Yakubov E, Brady JJ, Corbel SY, Holbrook C, Brandt M, Stein J, Santiago JG, Cooke JP, & Blau HM. (2015) Transient delivery of modified mRNA encoding TERT rapidly extends telomeres in human cells. FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. PMID: 25614443  

  • January 18, 2015
  • 09:59 AM
  • 606 views

BPA, BPA-free and why Internet titles can be misleading

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

A few years ago, when I still had both kids in preschool, I became painfully aware that plastic is made of oil. I know, I know, where had I been until then? Underground, I guess. All the bottles I'd used to feed milk and drinks to my kids were scratched and chewed and horrid. I screeched in panic, threw them all away and replaced everything with stainless steel. My kids hated the new bottles and refused to take them to school. Yeah, the joys of parenthood.So, imagine my joy when BPA-free came ar........ Read more »

Machluf, Y., Gutnick, A., & Levkowitz, G. (2011) Development of the zebrafish hypothalamus. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1220(1), 93-105. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05945.x  

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