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What we’re reading this month: October 2017

In between meetings, events, science workshops, and getting work done in the lab, Helix employees love finding a few minutes here and there to read. (A, C, G, and T might be our four favorite letters, but we actually like all of them.) Each month, we’ll be highlighting articles and books that catch our attention.
Have any recommendations of your own? Connect with us on Twitter and let us know.

“The future of DNA sequencing”
An opinion piece in the October 12 issue of Nature had us thinking about innovation in genomics, a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts. “The future of DNA sequencing”—co-authored by Eric Green, the director of US National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health—points a lens at the past to look at how DNA testing might evolve in the coming years.

“The Contribution of Neanderthals to Phenotypic Variation in Modern Humans”
The American Journal of Human Genetics
Our physical traits and attributes may represent a blended echo from ancient ancestors. In a paper published this month, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology describe ways in which Neanderthal DNA may influence modern human characteristics. Neanderthals—a relative of Homo sapiens—coexisted with our human ancestors more than 30,000 years ago. NPR explains how this research illuminates our understanding of Neanderthal DNA and its potential contribution to human skin color, muscle strength, and potentially even our circadian rhythm.

“A Tasting Menu Tailored to Your Taste Buds”
The Wall Street Journal
Genetic insights aren’t just for ancestry—they’re being used at the front line of culinary arts. The Wall Street Journal profiles VOX Table, an Austin-based restaurant, as it brings DNA into the realm of fine dining. Variations in a person’s DNA can help them taste bitter substances like phenylthiocarbamide (PTC). At VOX Table, customers are offered foods designed to fit their tasting profile, which is defined in part by their sensitivity to PTC.

“Modern Family Planning”
Expanded carrier screening (ECS) is a key application for DNA sequencing, as discussed in the Fall 2017 issue of Genome. ECS is a form of carrier screening that looks for DNA variants that are known to have a substantial impact on a child’s lifespan or quality of life. Standard carrier tests explore a small number of variants that are selected based on a person’s ethnicity (some genetic diseases are more common in specific populations). ECS allows prospective parents to be tested for hundreds of potential disease causing variants, regardless of their ethnicity.