April 15th, 2011
11:49 AM ET

DNA Day: Meet the Osbournes' geneticist

Happy National DNA Day! Yes, that's right: The stuff of life has its own holiday on April 15. It's to commemorate the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in April 1953, and the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003.

To celebrate, I caught up with Nathan Pearson, geneticist at Knome, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pearson has had the distinction of analyzing the genomes of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, and shared the stage with them at the TEDMED conference in October to present some of his insights about Ozzy. That presentation is in the video above.

Since October, Pearson and colleagues have been involved in more large projects involving sequencing many genomes at a time. They're focused on building software that could look at several genomes together and hone in on differences between sick and healthy people.

Most of Knome's clients are researchers, but consumers are starting to catch on to the idea that genomic sequencing could help them take better care of themselves and their families.

"In the consumer world, and especially in health care, I think that whole-genome sequencing is being driven first by what I think of as ‘fast-growing tissues.’ And those tissues are tumors and children," Pearson said.

There's a lot of potential in the cancer field for this kind of research. For example, scientists could potentially find the signatures of tumors that haven't fully developed yet. Eventually, there could be early monitoring for tumors, where people would be routinely screened for dangerous-looking genetic variants in tissue, and interventions could be developed before cancer growth.

At the same time, identifying such variants allows scientists to develop individualized treatments that could knock an existing tumor down.

"By understanding what mechanisms let it spread in terms of cell biology, through the prism of the genome, we could design new therapies or adapt existing therapies more efficiently to particular people’s tumors," Pearson said.

Such tailored medical care is already happening to some extent. A high-profile example is the treatment of English-American author Christopher Hitchens, who has stage IV squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus. Doctors analyzed samples of both healthy and tumorous tissue, and looked for any mutations in the DNA of the cancerous cells. It turns out that Hitchens has a mutation that an existing drug, called imatinib (Gleevec) already targets, and that's what he's taking to fight his disease.

Of course, undergoing this kind of genomic sequencing is expensive - for Ozzy Osbourne it was about $40,000, for example. Still, in terms of universally yielding useful information to inform health care decisions, the technique is not ready to be widespread.

"I would guess it's going to be a couple years before we have, generally speaking, in most cases of cancer, some real insight to be had from the sequence itself," Pearson said.

The other area of interest among consumers, Pearson noted, is children's health. Parents want to know what's making their kids sick and get information that might help make them better. Prospective moms and dads can also get themselves before having children to understand what worrisome variants each of them may carry, and the risks of disease in their children.

"Any two people can have a healthy child together. It’s a matter of watching out for a few variants," Pearson said.

Of course, this all takes time. The sequencing and initial data processing take about a month, and then it's at least another couple of weeks before researchers can try to understand what a genome can tell us.

Besides looking for signs of disease, Pearson's group is also interested in looking for genomic variants that might be related to creativity and artistic talent.

"We’re still waiting to tap into Ozzy’s vast Rolodex of rock stars," he said.

Not everyone is as curious about  genetic makeup as the Obsournes. Pearson acknowledges there are still people uncomfortable with the idea or afraid of what sequencing might uncover. But he likens this to the advent of photography, which some used to believe would snatch your soul, or at least be highly invasive. Today, people are photographed all the time, including at airports in a sense with the somewhat controversial backscatter scans. Similarly, genomic sequencing could become less scary as it gets more widespread.

There are still ethical issues, of course. In the thought-provoking sci-fi movie Gataca, for example, parents pre-choose their possible children after conception, and everyone is basically destined for a particular strata of society based on what their genes predict about health and fitness. As electronic medical records become more widespread, these concerns also arise.

"There are sobering issues for society to grapple with going forward," Pearson said. "There’s a lot of benefit to be had, but certainly problems that we’ll have to solve."

Filed under: TEDMED

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Doomguy

    So... does he have tiger blood? That is all we really want to know.

    April 15, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michelle

      Well, he sure doesn't have adonis DNA.

      April 15, 2011 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      Ozzy's hot.

      April 15, 2011 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
  2. notborncynical

    Genetics research is proving very useful – genetic mapping, preventing diseases, or it could lead to situations found in movies like Gattaca or The Island. At this point, it's really fascinating, and if I had the cash would love to know where my ancestors came from.

    April 15, 2011 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RJ

      You don't need DNA for that, you can research your family tree the old fashioned, and probably cheaper way 😉

      April 15, 2011 at 17:52 | Report abuse |
    • lizard

      There is a company in California that can screen your genome for ~500,000 mutations and provides information on ancestry and susceptibility to common conditions. The name is 23and me (www.23andme.com). It cost $199. It is not a genome sequencing service they just screen you for already describe variants. I am a geneticist myself and these people know what they are doing.

      April 17, 2011 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
    • Joann

      You can go to Ancestry.com. There's a place on that website to purchase blood tests that will tell you where in the world your genetics hail from. You can do a father line or a mother line. If you are female, you will need your brother's or father's or close uncle's dna for the father line test.

      April 18, 2011 at 10:04 | Report abuse |
  3. james miller, seymour,TX

    All they will find in Ozzie are drug residues, and a few burnt out brain cells.

    April 15, 2011 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jealous Goof Ball

      Ozzy can afford to buy your brain and the brains of your entire family. He's recorded more songs than you've had intercourse. You're just not funny.

      April 15, 2011 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
    • Aezel

      @goofball I hear burnt out rockers are srs bsns. If they have made a lot of money you are even less allowed to make fun of them.

      April 15, 2011 at 17:30 | Report abuse |
    • jillybean

      I agree he has the intelligence level of a dog and who cares about money when you cannot clearly function anyway.

      April 15, 2011 at 18:07 | Report abuse |
    • consultant

      god bless 'im

      April 18, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse |
  4. dutspup

    Dear CNN, besides your crappy reporting can you at least have your web guys fix the damn video so it will play?

    April 15, 2011 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • harleygirl

      NO KIDDING!! I love Ozzy... but had to watch that damn COMMERCIAL three times! >:(

      April 15, 2011 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
  5. Jo

    Dear dutspup, you're one of those who whine at CNN, so please just go away and read another paper.

    April 15, 2011 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Pablo

    i dont kno who ozy is but he is obviuously just riding his wifes coattails.how is this news just cus some talentshow hosts husband has dna?

    April 15, 2011 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anthony

      Pablo, you don't know who Ozzy is? He was on that show with Harriet Nelson in the late 50s.

      April 15, 2011 at 17:30 | Report abuse |
    • RJ

      Pablo: You are obviously way to young to even know who OZZY is, just by your lack of knowledge and spelling ability. It's actually the other way around, it's his wife riding his coattails. A little history for you, since you probably couldn't read the whole article and went by the picture: Ozzy was a member of Black Sabbath from the late 60's to 1979. He went solo in '78, but was kicked out in '79. He has sold over 100 million albums through his career. Sharon did not come into the picture until 1979, and that's when they started dating (along with her starting to manage him). SO, by then, Ozzy was already well known. Thank you and good night.

      April 15, 2011 at 17:51 | Report abuse |
    • The LORD

      Pablo, do your parent know what you're doing? Isn't it supposed to be nap time???

      April 15, 2011 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
    • Stopthemadness

      Omg did he just say Ozzy was riding Sharons coat tails? Listen young one and learn something about the greatest moment in rock Sharons father was a record producer Ozzy was his big ticket item she fell in love and married daddy's money maker. He then went on to have one of the greatest guitar player to ever exist on the planet (R.I.P. Dusty Rhodes) In a band called Black Sabbath, Later he went solo and made 20 more albums only to find the next greatest guitar player Zack Wilde. So now you know the history of Ozzy young one go do a youtube search for some of his music........oh wait you are so young you just may not like it because you are probably more into that lady gaga garbage or even better a justin what's his name fan.

      Yes you can say I know Ozzy and was even so kind as to do Killer Of giants as My choir solo in high school 25 years ago lmao.

      April 15, 2011 at 22:40 | Report abuse |
  7. jillybean

    Overrated and clearly almost geriatric from all the drugs he has taken and his kids are pigs. The daughter wiped boogers on Christina Aguilaria's car this family is clearly degenerates. Hopefully they donate because they are loud mouth filthy animals.

    April 15, 2011 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. The LORD

    HUGE Sabbath fan here!!!!
    Ozzy will make a fine angel:)
    What a rare and beautiful soul!!!

    April 15, 2011 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. v j

    Sabbath Bloody Sabbath!

    April 15, 2011 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. 77Observer

    Amazing Ozzy has lived this long. Most of the time I can't understand a thing he says.

    April 15, 2011 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. DD

    Dig back far enough, and we're all related. My more recent line (4000 years) includes both kings and barbarians. So does yours.

    April 15, 2011 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Oleg

      on the last season of Germany's Idol. But rellay: The judges should get snippy with the show staff. These casting shows always have pre-castings, where other people chose the good ones and some rellay bad ones to make the show funny. These people are invited to come again a week later in the same clothes and perform in front of the real jury.This also explains, why the bad candidates can be obstinate: They think they are rellay good, because they've already made it through the pre-casting. It's reminds me a little bit of wrestling . Everything is pre-arranged.

      November 16, 2012 at 02:30 | Report abuse |
  12. Mike

    Stopthemadness: First off it was Randy Rhoads, not Dusty Rhodes, secondly, Randy did not play in Black Sabbath, he was on Ozzy's first two solo albums.

    April 16, 2011 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rajbir

      Soul, you are the second respon asking for a tutorial If I had more time, I would be glad to do it. Maybe after my exams are all done and passed, I'll try to put together a tutorial explaining everything, but I can't promise anything.

      March 6, 2012 at 00:15 | Report abuse |
  13. PM

    Thank you for posting this video, the Osbournes make it interesting to follow, love Ozzie.

    April 16, 2011 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. funnybonemovies

    Both Oz and Sharon ride each other coat tails and wear funny little boots. By the way, Randy was in Quiet Riot until Ozzy got his hands on him. Bad Luck or what?

    April 16, 2011 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Captain_OWNARSHIP

    hello nice to meet you now fu%k off m0th3rf^ck3r.

    April 16, 2011 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. porchiaknows

    Ozzy is NOT artistic.

    April 17, 2011 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sharon O

    Well... someone has to explain it.

    April 17, 2011 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
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