Holocaust trauma, other gene changes during life, may be inherited


Every generation of Jews, it is thought, must learn the trauma of the Holocaust anew from parents or community.

But a new study has provided the strongest proof yet that some of the trauma is passed along genetically, and that other genetic changes people accrue during life also get transmitted to their children.

The study, by researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, looked at the genes of 32 Jewish men and women who survived a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or hid during World War II, and the genes their children.

“The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” Dr. Rachel Yehuda, the head of the team of researchers, told the Guardian.

Yehuda, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, and her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma across generations through “epigenetic inheritance” – the idea that genetic changes caused by the environment over a lifetime can be transmitted to offspring.

Genes contained in DNA are thought to be the only way to pass biological information from parent to child. But environmental influences – like smoking, diet and stress – modify genes all the time via chemical tags that attach themselves to DNA, switching genes on and off.

Recent studies suggest that some of the epigenetic tags might somehow be passed from parents to their children.

In their study, published this month in the journal Biological Psychiatry, Yehuda and her team focused on one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones and known to be affected by trauma.

They found tags on the same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their children. The correlation did not show up between the control group and their children.

Further genetic analysis ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experiences themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” Yehuda told the Guardian.

Other studies have less robustly linked the genetics of parents and their children.

How exactly parents could be passing the epigenetic tags to their children remains a mystery. Tags on DNA were thought to be wiped clean soon after conception. But recent research has shown that some slip through to leave their mark on the next generation.

Turning off the aging process


Studies in yeast, worms, flies, monkeys and even humans seem to prove that restricting calories is one of the few sure ways to combat the effects of aging. But Israeli doctoral Keren Yizhak is out to prove that there may be a more agreeable way to achieve long life than dooming ourselves to perpetual hunger. 

Working in the computational biology laboratory of Eytan Ruppin at Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science, Yizhak and colleagues at Bar-Ilan University have developed a computer algorithm that predicts which genes can be “turned off” to create the same anti-aging effect as calorie restriction.

Their findings were reported in the journal Nature Communications and could someday lead to the development of new pharmaceuticals to slow or stop the aging process. 

“Most algorithms try to find drug targets that kill cells to treat cancer or bacterial infections,” Yizhak explained. “Our algorithm is the first in our field to look for drug targets not to kill cells, but to transform them from a diseased state into a healthy one.” 

Her team’s algorithm, which she calls a “metabolic transformation algorithm,” or MTA, can take information about any two metabolic states and predict the environmental or genetic changes required to go from one state to the other. 

In the study, Yizhak applied MTA to the genetics of aging. Yeast is the most widely used genetic model because its DNA is, surprisingly, similar to human DNA. 

After using her custom-designed MTA to confirm previous laboratory findings, she used it to predict the genes that can be “turned off” to make the gene expression of old yeast look like that of young yeast. 

“Gene expression” is the process in which information from a gene is used to make a product, usually a protein, inside a cell. Genes can be turned off in various ways to prevent them from being expressed in the cell. 

Some of the genes that the MTA identified were already known to extend the lifespan of yeast when turned off. Of the other genes she found, Yizhak sent seven to be tested at a Bar-Ilan University laboratory. There, researchers Orshay Gabay and Haim Cohen found that turning off two of the genes, GRE3 and ADH2, significantly extended the yeast’s lifespan.

“You would expect about 3 percent of yeast’s genes to be lifespan-extending,” Yizhak said. “So achieving a tenfold increase over this expected frequency, as we did, is very encouraging.” 

Because MTA provides a systemic view of cell metabolism, it can also shed light on how the genes it identifies contribute to changes in genetic expression. In the case of GRE3 and ADH2, MTA showed that turning off the genes increased oxidative stress levels in yeast. This mild induced stress may be similar to the stress produced by calorie restriction. 

Next, Yizhak will study whether turning off the genes predicted by MTA prolongs the lifespan of genetically engineered mice. 

She also theorizes that MTA could be applied to finding drug targets for conditions and diseases in which metabolism plays a significant role, including obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and some types of cancer.

Old assumptions questioned in Arafat’s mysterious death


President Yasser Arafat's spartan bedroom remains largely as he left it in 2004, when he flew off to France for treatment for a mystery illness only to return home two weeks later in a coffin.

More like a prison cell than the living quarters of an Arab leader, a single bed lies along one wall, a small fridge still contains some of his long-expired medicines and his old, khaki uniform, dotted with bright badges, hangs in a narrow wardrobe.

Giving an outsider a rare glimpse into a long-shuttered world, the door to the adjacent room is thrown open, revealing the wooden casket that brought his corpse back to Ramallah.

Arafat's body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, was buried nine years ago, but conspiracy theories he was poisoned were never laid to rest, with accusations flying on all sides.

Should evidence emerge that Israel killed the Palestinian leader, a legacy of rancor could wreck the chances of peace for years to come. Proof that someone from Arafat's own inner circle did it could sweep away a generation of politicians who still hold sway in the West Bank.

Like many Palestinians, Imad Abu Zaki, one of Arafat's closest bodyguards, has no doubt who did it. Neither, he says, did his boss, whom he calls reverentially the Rais (president).

“I remember one day the Rais said: 'They have got me'. He was talking about the Israelis,” Abu Zaki said, recalling an enfeebled Arafat sitting on his sick bed and putting his hand to his chest.

Most Palestinians have long assumed that Israel murdered their national hero, anxious to be rid of a man they blamed for the collapse of peace talks in 2000 and a subsequent uprising that saw waves of suicide bombers wreak havoc in Israeli cities.

Revelations this month by a Swiss forensic lab that Arafat's bones contained unnaturally high amounts of rare, radioactive polonium, only fuelled their conviction.

But not everyone is pointing the finger in the same direction. Some people, like Arafat's widow Suha, have suggested her husband was killed by an insider.

“I'm sure it's someone in his close circle,” Suha said, calling Arafat's death a “political assassination”.

A series of interviews with Palestinian and Israel officials, who were all caught up in the events of 2004, shed more detailed light on an era of violence, intrigue and animosity that pitted Palestinians against Israelis, and against one another.

SHARON THREAT

Before his death, Arafat was confined by the Israeli military to his bomb-damaged, rubble-strewn headquarters in Ramallah for 41 months. Largely shunned by the outside world, he was still an icon of national resistance to his people, who referred to him affectionately by his nom de guerre, Abu Ammar.

The then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hinted darkly to Ma'ariv newspaper in September 2004 that he wanted to be rid of Arafat, noting that Israel had killed two leaders of the Islamist group Hamas earlier that same year.

“On the matter of Arafat we'll operate in the same way, when we find the convenient and suitable time,” said Sharon, who has lain in a deep coma since suffering a stroke in 2006.

Barely a month after Sharon's comment, Arafat, already fragile with notably trembling lips, fell seriously ill.

Ibrahim Abu Al-Naja, the then Palestinian agriculture minister, recalls dining with Arafat on October 14 in his airless makeshift home, cement-filled oil drums standing at the windows to limit blast damage in the event of an Israeli attack.

“There was nothing wrong with Abu Ammar (Arafat) when I saw him then. He looked in good health,” Abu Al-Naja said, talking about it for the first time to the foreign media.

“There was a bowl of soup in front of him. He took a sip in a spoon and he looked different. He put both hands to his mouth and he vomited. He never got better after that.”

Some officials recall the illness starting on October 12. Others say the decline started at the beginning of the month.

Initially, his aides said he was suffering flu. Teams of doctors came first from Egypt, then from Tunisia to check him. Eventually he was rushed to Paris on October 29, but he died on November 11. No autopsy was carried out and French doctors said they did could not determine the cause of death.

Two weeks later, the Palestinians opened an investigation that got nowhere. The case resurfaced last year when the Al Jazeera news channel obtained some of Arafat's hospital clothes and got them analyzed in Switzerland.

The Lausanne University Hospital's Institute of Radiation Physics found unusually high levels of polonium-210 and French magistrates opened a murder investigation.

Arafat's body was exhumed last year and samples were given to Swiss, French and Russian experts. Once more, the Swiss say they detected a high level of polonium. The Russian findings were less conclusive and the French have not yet reported back.

“I was always sure that Arafat was assassinated. I said it from the beginning. But we needed the proof. This Swiss report has finally given us the proof,” said Ahmed Qurie, the Palestinian prime minister at the time of Arafat's death.

“Nobody believes that anyone other than Israel did it.”

The Israelis adamantly reject this view.

THE ENEMY WITHIN

Israel orchestrated some 150 targeted killings between September 2000 and October 2004, according to Israeli human rights group B'tselem. The state freely admitted to many of the operations, but it denies any involvement in Arafat's death.

“For Sharon, Arafat was the symbol of evil,” said Giora Eiland, the Israeli leader's national security adviser from 2004-2006, who was at the heart of decision-making.

“There were some discussions about the possibility of removing Arafat or expelling him, but it was just hypothetical ideas. Arafat … was the absolute leader of the Palestinians, so we could not think to do to him what we did to the leaders of Hamas and other factions.”

Avi Dichter, the head of the Shin Bet internal security agency in 2004, said the Palestinians needed to look inwards. “Let them investigate and find out,” he told Israel Radio.

Fahmi Shabaneh, a member of the original Palestinian investigation team, believes Dichter is right.

On October 12, 2004, at the time that Arafat fell ill, his powerful cousin Moussa Arafat survived an assassination attempt in his Gaza Strip fiefdom. “Israel is innocent of this act,” Moussa said the next day, blaming rival forces for the failed car bombing of his convoy.

A year later he wasn't so lucky. He was dragged from his house in Gaza by gunmen and shot dead in the street. Despite living next to Palestinian security headquarters, no one came to his help and the murderers were never caught.

“Moussa's killing was tied to the killing of Abu Ammar (Arafat) and those who are suspected of the killing of Moussa are the same who are suspected of killing Abu Ammar,” said Shabaneh.

He said he came to this conclusion after the work he carried out in the first, official investigation into Arafat's death that lasted barely five months and led to no charges.

“Abu Ammar came from a small family and Moussa was his strongest relative … His killing was like a Mafia hit. They did it to prevent him seeking revenge,” he said this month from his small office in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

Shabaneh sees himself as a whistleblower, saying he was chased from the adjacent West Bank in 2010 after giving Israeli television a sex tape that compromised a senior official close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas's Palestinian Authority moved the shamed official into a new job and accused Shabaneh of being a traitor.

INNER TURMOIL

Before Arafat fell ill, there was growing internal dissent within the ranks of his Palestinian Authority (PA).

In July 2004, a former minister and fierce Arafat critic, Nabil Amr, was shot and wounded in Ramallah, enraging his clan, which denounced the PA for failing to find the attackers. The same month there were riots in Gaza after Arafat appointed his cousin Moussa to be police chief.

PA rival Mohammed Dahlan was accused of fomenting the trouble, leading to accusations that he was working with Israel to replace Arafat. He has denied this. He left the Palestinian Territories after falling out with Abbas in 2010 and lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Qurie, Palestinian prime minister at the time of Arafat's death, is adamant that Palestinians were not responsible. “Lots of Palestinians used to criticize Arafat, but this is not proof that there was a Palestinian plot to kill him. Everyone looked up to him as a father,” he said.

Certainly, if Arafat was killed – and the Swiss lab report says the amount of polonium found only “moderately supported” the contention he was poisoned – then the rare substance would have had to come from a country with a nuclear industry.

By the same token, because he was surrounded almost exclusively by Palestinians, a local hand would probably have had to deliver the tiny, fatal dose.

Bodyguard Abu Zaki was at Arafat's side from 1988 until his death in France and is the only person who still has an office off the cramped corridor that contained Arafat's hectic court. Speaking out for the first time since the polonium accusations surfaced, he said his team did what they could to protect him.

“The problem is he was popular. He met hundreds of people every day,” he said, suggesting the truth may never emerge.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Janet McBride

Israeli who murdered his parents used tips he found online


An Israeli who stabbed his mother and father to death was convicted of murder on Monday partly because he searched online for tips including “how to kill your parents and get away with it.”

Daniel Maoz, 29, wanted money from his inheritance in order to pay heavy gambling debts, the Jerusalem District Court found. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2011 murders.

The case presented an unusual challenge to the prosecution: DNA evidence linking Maoz to the killings was found at the murder scene, his parents' apartment, and he tried to explain that away by accusing his identical twin brother of the crime.

In its decision, the court cited other physical evidence and an examination of the defendant's computer to refute that.

The incriminating Internet searches also included “can soap clean DNA from a knife?” and “murder for inheritance”, a transcript of the ruling showed.

Maoz said he made the searches out of “academic curiosity.”

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Louise Ireland

DNA patent ruling could aid women


When the Supreme Court decided on June 13 that unaltered human DNA cannot be patented, it was more than a victory for cancer patients and corporate rivals in the field of genetics; it was a reason to celebrate for Dr. Wayne Grody, a professor at UCLA School of Medicine who assisted in the case that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought against Myriad Genetics.

“I’ve been involved with this case for about five years, since the beginning, and I’ve been giving lectures on it,” said Grody, 61, director of the Diagnostic Molecular Pathology Laboratory within the UCLA Medical Center.

“Actually, I was about to start another lecture on this [in Portland], when I got to the podium and about 10 people held up their iPhones to show me that the decision had been reached. I was blindsided and had to improvise the rest of the evening. Maybe the timing wasn’t great, but the news absolutely was.”

The court’s unanimous decision overturned U.S. Patent and Trademark Office policy and invalidated current patents on genes, thereby ending the monopoly of certain genetic tests, including those for types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer that affect a disproportionately large percentage of Ashkenazic women.

Until this decision, roughly 20 percent of human genes were patented, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This meant that the holder of the patent could effectively prevent anyone from studying, testing or looking at the gene, which caused great concern among many in the medical community, according to Grody. 

“We never felt comfortable with this idea and tried for many years to get around it — receiving numerous cease-and-desist letters from companies unhappy that we were doing medical genetic tests on genes they had patented,” he said.

When a company patents a gene and has an exclusive right to a test related to it, not only can it set the cost of the test as high as it wishes, but it makes it impossible for someone to get a second opinion. Patients must rely on a single test and hope it is done correctly.

“Many people don’t even know you could patent genes and were shocked when they found out it was possible,” Grody said.

This particular Supreme Court case was filed against Myriad Genetics, a company based in Utah. The genes and tests in question were mutation-location tests on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which act as significant markers for the likelihood of developing certain types of aggressive breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Because the Ashkenazic gene pool is less varied than that of the general population, due to the historical pattern of marrying within the faith, three mutations within the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are nearly five times more likely to appear in Ashkenazic women than in the general population, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Grody, an Ashkenazic Jew himself who was an expert scientific witness in the Supreme Court case and helped craft various aspects of the ACLU’s legal argument, said Myriad Genetics wasn’t targeted because of any problems within its testing record.

“They’re a first-rate lab. We chose Myriad because breast cancer is such a highly visible disease,” Grody said. “However, the price for the full mutation screening is between $3,500 and $4,000 without insurance. Even if you only have to pay 20 percent, it’s still too much for some people. And until recently, they had no other choice but to test through Myriad.”

Often, the tests are used to decide whether a woman will take prophylactic measures to avoid getting cancer — drastic medical procedures such as a double mastectomy (like the one actress Angelina Jolie underwent recently) and removal of one’s ovaries. Both procedures are irreversible, so many women would like to be able to pursue a second opinion.

Now they can. 

Although it will take many years for companies to build the kind of extensive genetic database that Myriad Genetics has, it’s the beginning of a new era for the genetic testing market — one that’s been decades in the making.

“By the end of the trial, which I had the honor of being able to attend, I felt like the justices really felt uncomfortable with the idea of patenting genes,” Grody said. “And although I was relatively confident that they’d rule in our favor, it was a relief to know that, yes, they did truly understand.”

Medical examiner keeps private how Boston bombing suspect died


An autopsy on Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev determined precisely how he died after a bloody shootout with police but the results can't be made public until the body is claimed, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Medical Examiner said on Monday.

FBI agents also spent hours at Tsarnaev's widow's family home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and came out carrying bags market DNA samples, a person familiar with the investigation said

Two law enforcement officials said both the FBI and local law enforcement agencies are now looking beyond the Boston area to try to identify associates or possible confederates of Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar. A federal official said that further searches by the FBI or other agencies for physical evidence were also possible.

Authorities and the public have been waiting to learn whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a hail of police bullets or when he was run over by Dzhokhar when the younger Tsarnaev fled in an SUV they had stolen.

“The Medical Examiner has determined the cause of death,” said Terrel Harris, spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, but added that these findings will not be made public until the body is claimed and a death certificate is filed.

Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, would be permitted to claim the body from the medical examiner but she has been in hiding at her family's home. She was seen leaving the house Monday afternoon with her lawyers and was later seen leaving her lawyer's offices in Providence, Rhode Island.

Police said the Tsarnaevs set off twin bombs on April 15 that ripped through the crowd near the marathon's finish line, killing three and injuring 264. The Tsarnaevs led police in a wild car chase through metropolitan Boston three days later, throwing grenades and exchanged gunfire as the officers closed in.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev had stepped outside the SUV to shoot at police when he was hit by gunfire and was run over by his brother when the younger Tsarnaev escaped. He was pronounced dead at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dzhokhar, 19, was captured on April 19 and has been recovering from bullet wounds at a prison medical center outside Boston.

Russell said through her lawyer last week that she was doing everything she could do assist officials with the investigation.

Her lawyers have not said anything else, but a person familiar with the matter said they have been negotiating how much access officials will have to their client.

Russell, 24, lived with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and their young daughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Police have said they found bomb material in that apartment.

Her lawyers have said she didn't know much because she spent most of her time working as a health aide near Boston while her husband was at home watching the child.

The brothers' parents, now living in Russia, said on Sunday that they have abandoned initial plans to come to the United States to claim their older son's body and visit their younger son.

Additional reporting by Aaron Pressman in Providence, Rhode Island, and Mark Hosenball in Washingbton; Editing by Philip Barbara

Genetically engineered salmon: Coming soon to a bagel near you?


Do you want to be experimented on by eating sushi or bagels and lox made with a new type of salmon with eel genes in it — salmon which hasn’t been adequately tested for safety of human consumption?

If not, then we in the Jewish community need to speak up now, for the sake of our health, the environment, kashrut, and to ensure that there will be native salmon left in the future.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking public comments through April 26, on whether to approve the first genetically engineered (“GE” or “GMO”) animal species: Atlantic salmon with chinook salmon and ocean pout (eel, non-kosher) genes forced into its DNA. 

Manufacturer AquaBounty plans to sell it without a GE label.  You won’t know you are eating it.

Over 300 consumer, health, fishing, environmental, parent, and animal rights groups are opposing FDA approval.  The Los Angeles City Council unanimously opposes it.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pledge not to sell it.

Here’s why I am taking action, and I hope you will, too.

HEALTH

Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) writes that the FDA determination of no additional significant health risk is based on manipulated data and inadequate studies. Allergy risk findings were based on only six fish, and those allergic to finfish could experience severe allergic reactions.

Friends of the Earth writes, “GE salmon are unhealthy and suffer from skeletal deformities, jaw erosions, inflammation, lesions, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased mortality, raising serious … human health concerns from eating sick fish.  Overall, GE salmon have 40% higher levels of IGF-1.” 

“IGF-1 is a hormone that has been associated with increased risk of a number of cancers, especially prostate, breast, colorectal and lung,” adds Dr. Hansen.

The Center for Food Safety summarizes that the science is not there to say these fish are safe to eat.  Further research is needed.

KASHRUT

The Orthodox Union says GE salmon is kosher, because it has fins and scales.

However, even though some authorities currently state that this fish is kosher, there are Jews who will reject it, saying, “I definitely won’t eat it – it’s not kosher to me.”  Views ranged from an ethical sense of kashrut to “it’s not the natural, healthy food G-d created for us.”

Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz of Netiya said the Torah prohibits eating swimming animals that do not have both fins and scales. Eel lacks scales, suggesting GE salmon might not be entirely a salmon, and therefore may not be kosher. Also, creation of a part-fish, part-eel seems impermissible as a violation of the Torah’s prohibition to mix species.

Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Serebryanski said, even though a small amount of a non-kosher food doesn’t usually render a food non-kosher, it does when it becomes an intrinsic part of the food.  It is prohibited to genetically engineer salmon with eel genes because such boundary crossing is prohibited by the Creator. Using genetic engineering to cross boundaries set up by the Creator creates an imbalance and distortion, disrupting a person’s connection with the Creator.

ENVIRONMENT

GE salmon raises serious concerns about the survival of native salmon. AquaBounty says its fish will be infertile and cannot escape their controlled, land-based environment.  But the FDA allows for 95% sterility, and there will certainly be fertile fish that produce the GE eggs.  Fish and eggs can escape through land-based water recirculation systems. Market competition may potentially push all fish farms to buy and raise AquaBounty’s GE eggs.  Most farms are on coastlines. Thousands of farmed fish escape annually.

Could escaped GE salmon out-compete native salmon for habitat, food and mates, causing extinction of native salmon?   Would eating GE salmon cause illness, infertility or death to bears, whales, seabirds, etc., that rely on them as food?  AquaBounty and the FDA have not done adequate studies.   

The FDA is accepting AquaBounty’s assurances.  Instead it should honor requests from California Senator Feinstein and others, for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement, and from experts like Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth, for a quantitative failure mode analysis.

ACTION

Friends, if this salmon is approved, you and I may have to stop eating salmon completely to protect our health and/or Jewish practice. Even doing so might not protect our ecosystem from disastrous consequences.

We can make a difference on this issue!  Comments to the FDA may be made until April 26 at: http://tiny.cc/in82qw. To help stop this fish from entering the market by getting stores and restaurants to pledge not to sell it, contact www.gefreeseafood.org or the author.


Lisa Kassner is the San Fernando Valley co-coordinator of the Label GMOs Campaign.

Need for genetic testing raised by new initiative GeneTestNow


Significant advances in science enable us to no longer question what’s in our genes. This is especially important for Jews, who are far more likely to be carriers of certain genetic diseases than the general population. 

Education and awareness about genetic screening have been spreading throughout the nation and the December 2012 launch of the Web site “>victorcenters.org.

How much does it cost? Insurance companies often dictate the price tag for genetic screening. Some won’t offer a covered benefit until a woman is pregnant, since there is no liability until this point and testing earlier is considered a waste of resources. Costs can range from as little as $99 to thousands. 

Is a salvia test a good genetic screening? To eliminate all risks of being a carrier of Tay-Sachs disease, you should request to screen for DNA and enzymes, which can be done only with a blood test. Otherwise the test will screen only for DNA mutations, which misses a small percentage of carriers. 

Should I get rescreened before having another child? Hold on to your test results. It isn’t a matter of rescreening, but of updating your screening as technology advances and more information becomes available. In 2005, the Jewish panel of diseases covered only nine genetic diseases. 

Are online genetic screening tests sufficient? Direct-to-consumer testing might not provide counseling services, which are strongly recommended. To ensure the quality of testing, laboratories should be properly certified. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulates lab testing through the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). Check to make sure the screener is CLIA approved. 

Consider purchasing life insurance first. Test results from genetic screening could make it difficult to buy life insurance, disability insurance or long-term-care insurance. Although, Congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 to protect Americans against discrimination based on their genetic makeup from health insurers or employers, not all types of insurance are included. 

PRO PROP 37: Should genetically engineered foods be labeled?


[Read the con argument here]

Did you know that you have been enrolled in the largest research study ever conducted in the United States, but you never signed a consent form or agreed to participate? That’s because since 1996, you — and basically everyone you know — have been eating genetically engineered foods.

Genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are created by forcing a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as bacteria or viruses, into the DNA of a plant or animal. For example, genetically engineered soybeans have DNA from bacteria and viruses spliced into their DNA to help them tolerate weed killers such as Roundup.

This genetic feat creates a whole new species of plant that would have never occurred in nature. Most soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini, yellow squash and alfalfa are genetically modified. Products such as oil, high fructose corn syrup and sugar are created from these crops and added to processed foods. This explains why nearly 80 percent of processed foods, including baby formula and most fast foods, contain GMOs.

The question is, are GMOs safe for us and the environment? The answers are not clear. When we decided to write an article on GMOs, we quickly realized there is no evidence that GMOs are safe for humans. We also found that the Food and Drug Administration did not do its own safety testing before GMOs were put into our food supply. The “studies” done by the companies that created the seeds compared genetically modified corn to regular corn and found that they were similar and thus thought to be safe.

However, there are animal studies with negative findings, including organ damage, tumors, infertility and immune system changes. Toxins from GMO corn and soy have been found in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their umbilical cords. It is clear that more research is needed.

The environment is another issue. What are the implications when a genetically engineered plant crossbreeds with other plants? Monarch butterflies are declining due to the destruction of milkweed. Super bugs and super weeds are already appearing. What other consequences are possible? Do we really want to irreversibly change the face of plant life with unknown consequences?

The bottom line is that we have a product in our food supply with unknown health and environmental implications. At the very least, we should have these foods labeled. However, try as we might, we cannot make that happen in the United States. Polls show 90 percent of people want them labeled, but the biotech companies and food manufacturers do not. If their products are beneficial and safe, why not be proud of those products and label them? Nearly 50 countries, including China, require GMO labeling, and some countries ban GMOs. Don’t we have a right to know what’s in our food?

What do Jewish leaders have to say about labeling? The Resolution on Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods issued by Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Action states that “GE [genetically engineered] products ought to be labeled as such, since the concealment of vital information (and this information is vital, important to the decision of the consumer to use it) is a violation of the prohibition against deceitful advertising.” (Shulchan Aruch) Similarly, a Conservative rabbi and a Chabad rabbi told us they support labeling because “it’s important for Jews to know what is in their food.”

The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) says that kashrut would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Surprisingly, kashrut agencies may decide that salmon with eel genes (which may soon be sold unlabeled) is kosher. But, observant Jews may feel otherwise and want to avoid it. Vegetarians may prefer to avoid ice cream that is now sold with GMO yeast with fish genes in it. 

Everyone has the right to be informed, through labeling, and thereby avoid foods that violate their personal standards of conscience and religious observance.

Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, will be on the November ballot. Companies such as Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta will probably create ads telling us that labeling is expensive and unnecessary because GMOs are safe. But, prices did not increase when Europe introduced GMO labeling in 1997 or when companies began labeling trans fats in the U.S.

Food labels already tell us if a food has high fructose corn syrup, trans fat or is irradiated. Why can’t we know if it’s genetically engineered? These companies’ biggest fear is that once GMOs are labeled, we won’t want to eat them anymore. And that may happen, just like it did when we found out there was pink slime in our hamburgers.

Our country is based on a free-market economy. If you supply a product the public does not want, the market dictates it will go away. So, biotech companies and food manufacturers will probably spend $50 million to $100 million to prevent the labeling of GMOs.

Whether you are concerned about health and fertility, the environment, or kosher or ethical eating, we hope you will join us and vote for the right to know when there are genetically engineered ingredients in our food.

Adapted with permission from an article at laprogressive.com.


Carole Bartolotto, a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in exercise physiology, has worked in the field of diet and health for more than 20 years. She blogs about nutrition and health at healthyeatingrocks.com. Lisa Goldwag Kassner lives in Northridge and can be reached at labelgmos80@gmail.com.

CON PROP 37: Should genetically engineered foods be labeled?


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Genetic study offers clues to history of North Africa’s Jews


A new genetic analysis has reconstructed the history of North Africa’s Jews, showing that these populations date to biblical-era Israel and are not largely the descendants of natives who converted to Judaism, scientists reported on Monday.

The study also shows that these Jews form two distinct groups, one of which is more closely related than the other to their European counterparts, reflecting historical migrations.

The findings are the latest in series of genetic studies, which began in the 1990s, indicating that the world’s Jews share biological roots, not just cultural and religious ties. In many cases the analyses have confirmed what scholars had gleaned from archaeological finds and historical accounts.

“This work demonstrates a shared genetic history among the Jews of North Africa and strengthens the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said medical geneticist Harry Ostrer of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who led the study.

For the new analysis, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ostrer and his colleagues examined the genomes of 509 Jews and 11 non-Jews from North Africa, which is home to the second-largest Jewish diaspora. Only the European diaspora, which includes American Jews, is larger.

The scientists found that the Jewish populations of North Africa became genetically distinct over time, with those of each country carrying their own DNA signatures. That suggests they mostly married within their own religious and cultural group, said Ostrer. “They lived in ghettos,” he said, “so their mobility was quite restricted, and by marrying each other they became as closely related as first cousins once removed.”

The analysis showed that all North African Jews are descended from forebears in the Middle East, supporting the hypothesis that biblical-era Israelites among Phoenician traders established colonies along the North African coast.

Common DNA signatures also show that some groups are closer, genetically, to their European co-religionists than expected. That suggests “a shared set of founders,” said Ostrer, presumably Jews from the Middle East who migrated west.

If Jewish populations in North Africa and Europe shared ancestors, then Sephardic Jews who settled in Africa after being expelled from Spain during the Inquisition originated in North Africa more than 1,000 years earlier. “The Sephardic Jews show significant North African ancestry,” said Ostrer. “That could reflect bidirectional migrations” to and from North Africa and Europe over the centuries.

EXODUS FROM EGYPT

DNA evidence lends credence to accounts that in 312 BC Egypt’s king settled Jews in Cyrenaica, in what is now Tunisia. According to the Jewish historian Josephus (born in AD 37), by the first century AD there were 500,000 Jews there. The DNA that Tunisian Jews share with those of the Middle East supports accounts that, after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, 30,000 Jews were deported to Carthage, in what is now Tunisia.

North African Jews fall into two genetically distinct groups: those of Morocco and Algeria and those of Tunisia and Libya. The former are more closely related to Europeans, suggesting that when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 most of those escaping to North Africa put down stakes in the first lands they reached rather than traveling farther east.

Experts not involved in the new study saw no major surprises but credited it for the breadth of its findings.

“What’s new here is the inclusion of several Jewish communities whose DNA had not been studied before, such as those of Tunisia and Georgia,” said geneticist Marcus Feldman of Stanford University, co-author of a 2009 study that found significant genetic similarity between European and Middle Eastern Jews.

Including Georgian Jews led to one surprise: that they are closely related to those of the Middle East, including those in Iraq and Iran. “That shows there was significant migration of Jewish populations along the Silk Road beginning in the Persian Empire,” said Ostrer. “Just a small number of founders started Jewish communities in India, Burma, and Georgia.”

The Jews of Ethiopia are so distantly related to other Jews that their community must have been founded by only a few itinerants who converted local people to Judaism and then married within the local population. It also suggests the founding was more than 2,000 years ago.

That antiquity helps explain why Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel during “Operation Moses” in 1984 had no idea about the holiday of Hanukkah, which commemorates events of the second century BC—long after their ancestors had left Israel. (Editing by Douglas Royalty)

Report: N.Y. mohel apparently tested postive for herpes


A New York mohel tied to the death from herpes of one newborn and to three others who contracted the disease, apparently tested positive for herpes, The Jewish Week reported.

Yitzchok Fischer, who was ordered in 2007 to stop the circumcision ritual of metzitzah b’peh, in which the mohel orally suctions blood from the circumcision wound, refused, however, to submit to a DNA test to determine if he is a match to the viruses found in the babies.

The Jewish Week reported April 6 that a copy of the 2007 New York State Health Department order obtained by the newspaper through a Freedom of Information Law request said that he tested positive for an infection that he was “capable of communicating to others.”

The order was redacted by the department to protect Fischer’s privacy, as required by law, and does not specifically mention herpes. But, according to reporter Hella Winston, “both the context of the order and the facts surrounding Fischer’s case strongly suggest that the infection for which, according to the order, he tested positive is herpes.”

The order also describes the investigation carried out by the city Health Department in the wake of three infections linked to Fischer in 2003 and 2004, The Jewish Week reported.

Several weeks ago, The Jewish Week obtained a tape recording indicating that Fischer may have continued to perform metzitzah b’peh after the order to desist was issued, according to the newspaper. When asked several weeks ago whether the state department of health would investigate Fischer in connection with a possible violation of the 2007 order, Mike Moran, a spokesman for the department, would not comment.

The New York City Health Department has issued a warning against the practice. Haredi leaders condemned the warning as an unnecessary and unwelcome government intrusion into their community’s religious practices.

U.S. officials: DNA evidence proves Osama bin Laden is dead


DNA evidence has proven with 99.9 percent confidence that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead, two officials in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration said Monday.

The officials did not immediately say where or how the testing was done but the test explains why Obama was confident to announce to the world on Sunday night that the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 had been killed in a U.S. helicopter raid on a mansion near the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

The initial DNA results show a “very confident match” to bin Laden, giving “high confirmation” that it was bin Laden killed in the raid in Pakistan, one of the officials said.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

DNA suggests Hitler likely had Jewish, African roots


Adolf Hitler may have had both Jewish and African roots, DNA testing shows.

Samples taken from some of the German Fuhrer’s relatives show that he was likely descended from some of the ‘sub-human’ races that he tried to destroy, according to research by Belgian journalist Jean-Paul Mulders and historian Marc Vermeeren, cited in the Flemish-language magazine Knack.

Saliva samples taken from 39 Hitler relatives have genetic fingerprints pointing to possible African and Jewish ancestry.

“This is a surprising result,” said Ronny Decorte, a genetic specialist at the Catholic University of Leuven, interviewed by Knack. “Hitler would not have been happy.”

Some believe that Hitler’s father, Alois, was the illegitimate child of a maid and a 19-year-old Jewish ma

Researcher tracing Jewish genes meets the Kohanim of Africa [VIDEO]



Dr. David B. Goldstein from Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy talks about tracking the genetic history of the ancient Jewish priesthood (kohanim) and the Lost Tribe of Israel, the focus of his new book, “Jacob’s Legacy”.

For many people, genetics research conjures up frightening notions of racial or religious superiority — or the possibility of genetic discrimination. David B. Goldstein isn’t worried about either of these things.

“I take the view that there isn’t anything to be afraid of in our genetic makeups. So I really think that it’s interesting, fascinating even, sometimes important, but there isn’t anything scary lurking there,” said Goldstein, a professor of molecular genetics and the director of Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy’s Center for Population Genomics &Pharmacogenetics.

Goldstein, 44, even applies his open-research policy to a scientific study a few years ago that linked genetic diseases to intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews. He calls that work “speculative,” but he doesn’t rule out research into the issue.

“That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be really careful in how you present what’s been done,” he said. “I think you do, and I think we’ve seen mistakes in how work is presented. I think it’s really reckless to overstate results. But I don’t think there are any areas that are unwise to investigate, because I’m just not afraid of what we’re going to find.”

In “Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History,” recently published by Yale University Press, Goldstein uses the latest genetic methods — including genetic mapping and advanced DNA testing — to illuminate compelling issues in Jewish history like the biblical priesthood, the Lost Tribes, Jewish migration, and Jewish genetic diseases.

Goldstein’s most startling finding: There are enough Y chromosome similarities among many who call themselves descendants of the Cohanim, the biblical priestly caste, to argue for genetic Cohen continuity.

He and his colleagues tested these similarities by comparing the Y chromosomes of Cohanim with the chromosomes of other Jews. Sure enough, the majority of the self-identified Cohanim, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardi Jews, had the same type of Y chromosome. Further testing by Goldstein and friends leads him to estimate that the Cohanim were founded before the Roman era — and perhaps before the Babylonian conquest in the sixth century B.C.E.

Even Goldstein was blown away.

“The apparent continuity of the Cohen Y chromosome was an out-and-out stunner; I would have never predicted that to be the case,” he said.

He also finds genetic evidence for the idea that the Lemba tribe in Africa might have some Jewish origins, a finding that the media simplified by saying he had shown the Lemba are one of Judaism’s 10 Lost Tribes.

In the section on the Lemba, and indeed throughout the book, Goldstein is careful about his conclusions. For him, the research is more about shedding light on themes of Jewish history, such as exile and Diaspora. As he puts it in the book, “What makes a people a people? What binds them together through time? What alienates them from some and aligns them to others?”

As admirable as the book’s scholarship is its readability. Goldstein’s jargon-free writing and sense of humor courts readers who are not hard-core scientists. At different points in the book, he calls himself a “lousy mathematician” and as “having a bit of the gambler in my genes,” and, in the section about the alleged link between genetic diseases and intelligence, he writes, “Now we geneticists have a genuine kerfuffle on our hands.”

Don’t be misled — Goldstein’s book isn’t “Jewish Genetics for Dummies.” But he has taken cutting-edge science and made it accessible to the general reader willing to make an effort.

It wasn’t easy, admitted Goldstein, whose academic work focuses on medical genetics — specifically, why some people control HIV better than other people and why some people respond better to some medicines than other people.

“I started writing this just about 10 years ago. The discussions of the science were dreadful, incomprehensible. And so I just tried it again and again until I found ways that worked and that people didn’t complain about when I showed it to them.”

Part of the motivation for the book, Goldstein says, stems from guilt he feels because he remained in graduate school at Stanford and didn’t go to Israel when the 1991 Gulf War broke out.

“I did feel like I should do something. And I think doing some work eventually at least gave me some kind of connection to read about Jewish history as part of my job, and that definitely made me feel better. I guess I finally got over it and started going to Israel regularly, which I still do.”

He’s frank about the limitations of genetic history. “[G]enetics can never, however, replace, or even compete with, the painstaking work of archaeology, philology, linguistics, paleobotany and the many other disciplines that have helped resurrect some of the lost stories of human history,” Goldstein writes.

Understandably, though, he’s proud that his research has yielded some insight into some vexing issues, and shares the notion that what he is doing on some issues — say, the Cohanim — borders on the fantastic.

“The continuity of the Cohen paternal line is an astounding thing,” he said. “And it’s a little tiny bit of history that genetics tells you about.”

Peter Ephross’ articles and reviews have appeared in the Village Voice, the Forward and Publishers Weekly, among other publications.

Spectator – The ‘Truth’ That Lies Beneath


For Josh Bernstein, host of The History Channel’s “Digging for the Truth,” myth-dispelling, artifact-hunting and body-straining adventure are part of his regular routine.

“Digging,” now in its second season, has taken Bernstein from Peru to Greenland to Zimbabwe and Egypt searching for answers to archaeological mysteries, such as locating the lost tribe of Israel and uncovering the Holy Grail.

This Jewish Indiana Jones seems to have the travel bug in his DNA. Bernstein says he traveled from his home in New York to Israel to see family several times prior to age 2.

“My father was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and I think just by nature the Israeli culture is very pro-travel. They still are today,” he explains. “As far back as I can remember I have always been on airplanes and in other countries.”

Bernstein grew up in a Conservative Jewish household on the Upper East Side, attended Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed and enjoyed Shabbat dinner Friday nights. After he graduated from Cornell, where he majored in anthropology and psychology, Bernstein spent a year studying Judaic texts for at least 12 hours a day at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.

While the majority of his fellow classmates continued their studies in rabbinical school, Bernstein opted to explore a different profession: “I wanted to pursue a career in the outdoors and get my knowledge from the same place.”

Bernstein soon began working at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) a program that teaches a field-based, hands-on curriculum of wilderness survival skills. After moving up the ranks to CEO, and establishing himself as an outdoor survival expert, Bernstein added another occupation to his resume: Television show host.

On “Digging for the Truth,” he is able to integrate his interest in the social sciences and his love of frequenting remote destinations.

“I’m actually physically there with the experts … exploring the actual tombs, temples or pyramids and bringing that to life in a very physical and hopefully accessible way,” he said.

When he’s not filming for the History Channel, Bernstein may be found in New York or Utah, or in Colorado, where four times yearly he continues to run courses for BOSS.

“Digging for the Truth” airs on The History Channel Mondays at 9 p.m., check local listings for additional times. Shows are also available on DVD.

Jew Who?


There is a new twist to the contentious question of who is really a Jew. John C. Haedrich, who claims that his DNA proves his Ashkenazi descent, is challenging the State of Israel to recognize his Jewishness under the Law of Return.

Authorities in Israel have so far not commented on his claim, but Haedrich, a prolific writer of letters and e-mails, has vowed to pursue his quest in the Israeli courts, if necessary.

In an interview, Haedrich, 43 and owner of a nursing home for the elderly in Glendale, said that all his immediate relatives are dead or estranged, that Judaism was never practiced in his home and that the DNA test is the only proof that he’s a Jew. He said that he discovered his Jewish sense of identity five years ago, when he visited Krakow and Auschwitz and “suddenly had a feeling that I was Jewish…. I also heard that one relative in Poland had been a rabbi.”

In numerous letters and more than 100 e-mails to Israeli officials and synagogues in Los Angeles, to American Jewish organizations and newspapers and to Israeli universities and human rights organizations, Haedrich tops his missives with the sentence “Re: State of Israel refuses to accept DNA test results as proof of being Jewish!”

The actual eight-page DNA analysis is not as definitive. It states that “The distribution of the haplotype [genetic marker], combined with the origin of the surname, suggests a Polish Ashkenazic Jewish family background with the past 500 years,” on the father’s side.

On the maternal side, “The subject is descended from a lineage … founded 16,000 to 20,000 years ago in the Mediterranean or Middle East.”

Haedrich acknowledges that the 1950 Law of Return, which defined the rights of Jews to settle in Israel, did not mention DNA testing.

But he argues that “DNA testing is admissible in Israeli courts in homicide and paternity cases, and who is to say that it cannot be used to support a birthright?

“Had DNA testing been available in the 1950s, who is to say that the Knesset would not have considered it?” Haedrich said.

Haedrich declined to establish his Jewish bona fides by undergoing a formal conversion.

“I don’t want to go the religious route,” he said. “This is a quest for my personal identity.”

The Journal contacted the North American Aliyah Center in New York, whose executive director, Michael Landsberg, is checking his Jerusalem headquarters for a ruling on the Haedrich case. No response has been received so far.