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Biotech Medicine Science

Most Popular Human Cell In Science Gets Sequenced 63

ananyo writes "The research world's most famous human cell has had its genome decoded, and it's a mess. German researchers this week report the genome sequence of the HeLa cell line, which originates from a deadly cervical tumor taken from a patient named Henrietta Lacks (Slashdot has previously noted a film made about the cells and there's a recent mutli-award winning book on Lacks). Established the same year that Lacks died in 1951, HeLa cells were the first human cells to grow well in the laboratory. The cells have contributed to more than 60,000 research papers, the development of a polio vaccine in the 1950s and, most recently, an international effort to characterize the genome, known as ENCODE. The team's work shows that HeLa cells contain one extra version of most chromosomes, with up to five copies of some, and raises further questions over the widespread use of HeLa cells as models for human cell biology."
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Most Popular Human Cell In Science Gets Sequenced

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  • by the biologist ( 1659443 ) on Friday March 15, 2013 @03:30PM (#43185441)

    The original sample was the cancer which killed Henrietta Lacks. Cancers generally have rampant chromosomal aberrations, though it is not entirely reasoned out if the aberrations are a cause or consequence of the unregulated growth which defines the cancer.

    This result doesn't invalidate any science. Every experiment using a model teaches us something about the model. We make inferences from those results which we apply and test in other systems, such as human medicine. Given that there are humans walking around with alterations to their chromosomes (admittedly at a lesser level than this), even results from one human don't necessarily apply to any other human.

  • Re:Cloning (Score:5, Interesting)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday March 15, 2013 @03:43PM (#43185569)
    That's not Ms. Lack's genome anymore. The summary says it has more than the usual number of chromosomes. Cancer cells generally lose the ability to maintain their genomes, they become very unstable, allowing a bizzare, short-term form of evolution to occur. More mutations allow the cancer to get better at proliferating and invading, at least right up until the host dies. Usually, anyway, HeLa is or was unique in that it managed to escape it's own doom, much like we might need to do with Earth.

    Sorry, got off topic there. Anyway, cloning HeLa cells, as in putting the genome into a fertilized egg like Dolly the sheep, that would probably not make a complete embryo. I'm not familiar with HeLa's genome, but I think it's likely they've lost the ability to control cell division, cell death, and/or cell differentiation. You need those processes to make anything that looks like an embryo. You'd likely end up with just another petrie dish of HeLa cells. It would be a neat if ethically questionable experiment.
  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday March 15, 2013 @03:45PM (#43185587)
    I doubt it will invalidate much research. Everyone who uses them is aware that HeLa cells aren't really "human" cells, all research should have been based on the understanding that the genome was a bloody mess. Most of the research I've seen on it has been about cell division, which it doesn't seem too messed up with.

In 1869 the waffle iron was invented for people who had wrinkled waffles.