Today in Research: Reconstructing the Black Death's DNA; More

Today in research: reconstructing the Black Death, more vitamin fretting, guideline experts have conflicts of interest, and investigating a blood-test that can "predict" lifespan.

  • Cuing screenplay writers: a good set-up to a bad disaster movie. In an attempt to reconstruct the DNA strain of the Black Death -- that plague that wreaked havoc across Europe centuries ago -- "researchers extracted DNA fragments of the ancient bacterium from the teeth of medieval corpses found in London." This would normally be the moment that everything goes wrong in the movies. But, according to BBC News, the research team behind the study was successful, it was the "first time" the genetic code was reconstructed. They still couldn't point to a genetic reason why the plague was so damaging in the first place, as NPR reported. "There is no smoking gun, so to speak, to say, 'Aha, we've found the one mutation which caused this tremendous virulence and now we know why it killed 50 million people.' We don't see that," researcher Hendrik Poinar told NPR. [BBC News, NPR - Health Shots]
  • About that blood test that will 'predict' how long you will live.  Earlier this year, a company called Life Length made news for devising a blood test that would, as ABC News quoted an advisory board member of the company explaining, "tell you within about a decade what your biological age is" by measuring the condition of telemores ("pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes"). Well, months later, The Guardian's Giles Tremlett became one of the first to take the test, traveling to Spain's National Cancer Research Centre. And, though he got encouraging results, he doesn't put much stock in the test's predictive abilities. Even the woman who's the co-founder of the test, María Blasco, clarifies that "we don't tell anyone how long they will live." [The Guardian]

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