Wednesday evenings at the genome

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Sandra Porter
If you're in Seattle this week, and you're not going to the zoo concert on Wednesday night, you might enjoy this lecture series from the UW Genome Sciences department. We missed the first two talks because of travel, but our college-age daughter and her friend persuaded us to go last Weds. and hear Debbie Nickerson talk about genetics and drugs. Usually these sorts of talks are held during the school year and they're packed with high school students who're getting extra credit for attending and taking notes. This time it was different. We looked around the room when we arrived, of course, and recognized many familiar faces. But it was pretty clear from the questions that people asked during the talk that the audience was pretty diverse. The subject of the talk was warfarin and the relationship between genetics and your ability to metabolize this drug. Warfarin - or coumadin, or rat poison, is commonly prescribed to people who are at risk for strokes or clotting problems. It's a very effective drug and quite helpful, but the treatment isn't simple. If you get too high a dose, you run the risk of excessive bleeding; too low of a dose, and the drug doesn't help. Complicating all of this, is that people have very diverse abilities to metabolize the drug, making it difficult to determine just what the correct dose should be. Dr. Nickerson did well at describing the basic genetics and the studies that her lab did to help identify the link between genetics and warfarin metabolism. The audience didn't restrict themselves to asking about drugs however; people wanted to know all kinds of things. They asked if your genome changes when you get cancer, if all your cells have the same genome, and why they hear different estimates all the time concerning the number of genes in the genome. I thought this part was lots of fun. I've haven't heard such an interesting set of questions since I taught a biotechnology course for non-science majors. And, Dr. Nickerson did a good job answering them. The last two talks look interesting as well. And, there are cookies afterwards.
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