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Teeth reveal slave stories. Who owns DNA? Tiger genetics; prostate cancer

Monday at the International Congress of Genetics 5 mins read

Teeth reveal missing slavery stories

Who owns and benefits from DNA

Capturing the Tree of Life

Tiger genetics

'Blood' DNA reveals prostate risk 

And more from the International Congress of Genetics in Melbourne

Today, Monday 17 July 2023

  • “Same ol' genetic racism, new biocolonialism,” says Dr Krystal Tsosie, a member of the Navajo Nation, who realised that her cancer research was unlikely to help her people. So she founded the Native BioData Consortium – to ensure that Indigenous people benefit from their DNA and data. Her research has been featured in the NYT.
  • Capturing the genetic code of every species in the Tree of Life. Mark Blaxter’s UK team have sequenced their first thousand species as part of a bold project to read the genome of every species on Earth. He will report that some animals throw away some of their DNA in their bodies (retaining it in their germlines).
  • Reconstructing the lives of some of the 12 million Africans forcibly transported to colonial Americas. Maria Nieves-Colón is piloting the use of tooth DNA to start to discover the history of enslaved workers at a sugar plantation in Peru.
  • Prostate cancer: a blood test for circulating tumour DNA could reveal which patients are at higher risk according to Bernard Pope from the University of Melbourne
  • Do jumping genes enable mosquitos to adapt to urban environments, asks Spain’s Dr Josefa Gonzalez
  • Nobel Laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, African Biogenome Project leader Anne Muigai, Science Executive Editor Valda Vinson on Women in Science – unique journeys to different peaks, with Jen Martin.

Media welcome, at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Last night Professor Kathryn North opened the Genetics Congress outlining potential genetic futures:

  • Accessing your complete genome in a user-friendly form on your smart phone.
  • Knowing the biological function of every human gene, leading to new treatments.
  • Collecting DNA from air and water to measure and protect plants and animals and explore the Tree of Life.
  • Boosting food production with more resilient crops.
  • Equity, bringing the genetic revolution benefits to First Peoples around the world.

Over the next five days we’ll explore these ideas with nearly 1,000 talks, presentations and posters.

For accreditation and interviews contact Niall Byrne,, 0417-131-977, or Sarah Brooker,, 0413-332-489.

Full Congress program at

Public program details at

Media releases at

Read on for more information about each story.

Unique journeys to different peaks: Women in Science

  • Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (Germany) who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995 for “discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development”.
  • Anne Muigai (Kenya) who is the joint leader of the African Biogenome Project that aims to sequence the genomes of 100,000 species of plants and animals endemic to Africa.
  • Valda Vinson (USA) with a research background in Chemistry and Biochemistry, Valda is the Executive Editor of the Science journals published by AAAS.

Moderated by Jen Martin, award winning science communicator, radio host, teacher and ecologist.

Reading the Tree of Life

The first thousand species have been sequenced by Mark Blaxter and his UK team as part of a bold project to read the genome of every species on Earth.

He will report on the first substantial finding from the project, included that some animals throw away some of their DNA in their bodies (retaining it in their germlines).

Using tooth DNA to reconstruct the lives of African slaves in Peru

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, over 12 million Africans were forcibly transported to the colonial Americas. A sugar plantation Hacienda La Quebrada was one of the largest slaveholding estates in Peru during this period, housing at least 500 enslaved individuals.

Maria Nieves-Colón and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, have started a pilot project to explore the origins and relations ships of enslaved laborers through analysis of DNA from their teeth.

Her team have used innovative strategies including filming the research to connect with the community.

More at   

Genetic diversity: a hidden but fundamental aspect of biodiversity.

Genetic diversity is the fuel of evolution and the diversification of life in a myriad of colours, shapes, and species, says Dr Claire Mérot, from CNRS ECOBIO at the Université de Rennes. And it’s more complex that we thought.

“With recent access to genomes (and pangenomes) we are uncovering more variation than we thought. Genomes of individuals vary not only by point mutation (e.g. if we compare the genome to a book, a change of a letter in a sentence) but by structural (e.g. a whole word is deleted in a sentence, a sentence is upside down).”

Such structural variation between individuals, between populations, between species are relevant for many traits including adaptation to environment and the formation of species.

Prostate cancer: a blood test could reveal which patients are at higher risk

Detecting circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) has allowed us to diagnose many cancer types, including metastatic prostate cancer.

However, if the cancer is just in the prostate it doesn’t produce much ctDNA which makes it harder to detect.

Using state-of-the-art detection methods Bernard Pope and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne were able to positively identify ctDNA in 16% of individuals in a study consisting of 118 individuals.

The team found that positive detection of ctDNA in localised prostate cancer is related to poorer patient outcomes, and therefore ctDNA has promising applications in this clinical setting. 

Precept study Link:

Do jumping genes enable mosquitos to adapt to urban environments?

How organisms adapt to the environment is still an open question in Biology.

Dr Josefa Gonzalez from Spain’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology will report on her work with transposable elements (jumping genes) and their role in enabling Anopheles mosquitoes and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to adapt to urban and natural environments.

Her team is currently analysing over 200 Anopheles genomes with the final goal of identifying new candidate genes that could be targeted to control mosquitoes to prevent disease spreading.

Tiger genetics – a tool for survival

Tigers exist today mostly in small and isolated populations, giving them a high probability of extinction.

“Our research has revealed that tigers in central India are largely connected, while populations in western and eastern India are more isolated,” says Professor Uma Ramakrishnan from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in India.

These isolated populations show signatures of inbreeding, and the impacts of genetic drift which is where some gene variants can completely disappear.

Her work has led to wildlife underpasses to allow connectivity and increased awareness about how long-lived species like the tiger are losing genetic variation even now.

In the coming years, she hopes to better predict the impact of genetic variants on how tigers look and where they are found.

Other stories coming up

  • An oratorio on: The origins of the universe, of life, of species, of humanity. Tuesday
  • Are super athletes born or made? A discussion with footballer Darcy Moore, Olympian Melissa Tapper, and geneticist Kathryn North, led by ABC’s Tracey Holmes. Wednesday.
  • Population DNA screening for disease risk is coming – what you need to know, Thursday 
  • The Genetic Rescue of our Fantastic Beasts, Wednesday

The Scientific & Spiritual Human, how faith can speak to being humans of the future, Saturday.

Contact details:

For accreditation and interviews contact Niall Byrne,, 0417-131-977, or Sarah Brooker,, 0413-332-489.

Full Congress program at

Public program details at

Media releases at

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