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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Genepeeks firm to offer 'digital baby' screen for sperm donors

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New York start-up Genepeeks will initially focus on donor sperm, simulating before pregnancy how the genetic sequence of a female client might combine with those of different males.
Donors that more often produce "digital children" with a higher risk of inherited disorders will be filtered out, leaving those who are better genetic matches.

Everything happens in a computer, but experts have raised ethical questions.
"We are just in the business right now of giving prospective mothers, who are using donor sperm to conceive, a filtered catalogue of donors based on their own underlying genetic profile," Genepeeks co-founder Anne Morriss told BBC News.
"We are filtering out the donor matches with an elevated risk of rare recessive paediatric conditions."
Ms Morriss, an entrepreneur, gave a presentation on the company at the Consumer Genetics Conference in Boston last week.

Advancing technology
She was motivated in part by her own experience of starting a family. Her son was conceived with a sperm donor who happened to share with Morriss the gene for an inherited disorder called MCADD.
MCADD (medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency) prevents those affected from converting fats to sugar. It can be fatal if it is not diagnosed early. Luckily, in Ms Morriss's case, the condition was picked up in newborn screening tests.
"My son has a pretty normal life," Ms Morriss said, "but about 30% of children with rare genetic diseases don't make it past the age of five."
Genepeeks has formalised a partnership with a sperm bank - the Manhattan Cryobank - and has a patent pending on the DNA screening technology.
The start-up benefits from the rapid pace of change in genetic technology.
Indeed, six months ago, Genepeeks' founders decided it was able to use a superior system for DNA analysis (called "targeted exon sequencing") than the one originally envisaged - a result, says Anne Morriss, of falling costs and increased flexibility.
For couples planning babies, other companies already screen one or both partners for genes that could cause disease if combined with a similar variant - so-called "carrier screening".

Digital filter
One academic who studies the use of genetic technology commented: "This is like that, but ramped up 100,000 times."
Ms Morriss's business partner, Prof Lee Silver, a geneticist and expert on bioethics at Princeton University, New Jersey, told BBC News: "We get the DNA sequence from two prospective parents. We simulate the process of reproduction, forming virtual sperm and virtual eggs. We put them together to form a hypothetical child genome.
"Then we can look at that hypothetical genome and - with all the tools of modern genetics - determine the risk that the genome will result in a child with disease. We're looking directly for disease and not carrier status. For each pair of people that we're going to analyse, we make 10,000 hypothetical children."
The process will be run for the client and each potential donor one by one, scanning for some 600 known single-gene recessive conditions. In this way, the highest-risk pairings can be filtered out.
Anne Morriss added: "At this stage our clients won't be receiving any genetic information back. We're very much focused on the practical utility of helping prospective parents who want to protect their future kids, giving them the option of additional analysis to what is currently being offered in the industry."
But the company's founders have plans to expand the screening beyond single-gene recessive disorders to more complex conditions in which multiple genes play a part.
Indeed, going to the trouble of simulating thousands of digital children deliberately lays the ground for this: "[It's] impossible to get towards an accurate risk calculation in any other way," said Anne Morriss.
And in a video produced by the company, Prof Silver says: "My hope for the future is that any people who want to have a baby can use this technology to greatly reduce the risk of disease being expressed in their child."

Donor ethics

To some, such a prospect might appear like a step towards designer babies - until now the preserve of science fiction literature and films such as Gattaca, which envisaged a future of genetic "haves" and "have-nots".
Bio-ethicists approached by the BBC said Genepeeks was a logical outcome of the increasing demand for more information when making reproductive decisions.
However, some raised potential concerns about risk communication and the expansion of screening beyond rare single-gene disorders. But they suggested there were few, if any, regulatory barriers.
One ethicist told BBC News: "The biggest question for me, just from the outset, is the understanding of uncertainty. Even people who have been doing genomics for years still have a hard time figuring out exactly what a risk for a particular genetic predisposition really means for a family.
"Gene-environment interactions can lead to people either having disease or not having disease."
Dr Ewan Birney, associate director of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, UK, echoed the point: "It's good that they're focusing on the carrier status of these rare Mendelian disorders where it's potentially more clear-cut. That said, these things are more complex than they first seem," he said.
"I'm sure the scientists appreciate that complexity. But when transmitting that complexity to everyday people, these things can sound more absolute than they really are."
He added: "The thing I would want to stress here is just how complex this is. It's great that people are thinking of using this technology in lots of different ways, but our knowledge gap is very large."
Risk communication to clients was, said Anne Morriss, "absolutely critical to anyone in this industry".
"We have to be crystal clear about what we're testing for, what risks we're helping to reduce; that there's no guarantee you won't give birth to a sick child," she said.
Prof Mildred Cho, associate director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics in California, raised questions over whether the sperm donor should also receive information about their genome gleaned from the screening process.
"Unlike hair colour, occupation or family history - those are things, presumably, the donor already knows - the thing that's different about this that I see is it could create information that the donor doesn't already have. It also has implications for the donor's other biological family members," Prof Cho told BBC News.

This week it also emerged that California-based consumer genetics company 23andMe had submitted the patent on a DNA analysis tool for planning a child.
Source bbc science news

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dell Announces Android and Windows Tablets

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On Wednesday, Dell launched a slew of new devices, including tablets, laptops, and even a tablet/laptop hybrid. At a press event in New York City, the company showed off its Venue 7 and Venue 8 Android slates, Venue 8 Pro and Venue 11 Pro Windows 8.1 tablets, its newly refreshed XPS 15 and XPS 13 laptops, and its foldable ultrabook called the XPS 11.

The Venue 7 and Venue 8 tablets came as a bit of a surprise reveal, as Dell dipped back into the Android market it appeared to have left behind. Neither slate is particularly mighty, though: Both run Android 4.2.2 (upgradeable to KitKat) and are powered by Intel Atom processors. The 7 features a 1.6 GHz dual-core CPU while the 8 is driven by a 2.0 GHz dual-core processor. Ostensibly, Dell is aiming to satisfy the budget-conscious Android fan with this offering, judging from the way the rest of its (middling) specs read.

Both the Venue 7 and Venue 8 feature 1280 x 800 pixel IPS displays, USB 3.0, a battery life of 8 hours, and rather lackluster cameras (a 3-MP rear camera and VGA front-facing camera for the Venue 7, and a 5-MP rear camera and 2-MP front-facing camera for the Venue 8). The Venue 7 comes with 16GB of internal memory, and you can choose between 16 or 32 GB versions for the Venue 8. If that's not enough, the devices are expandable via a microSD slot. The 7 and 8 will be available on October 18, at $150 and $180 respectively.

Dell also dropped a couple of Windows 8 tablets at the event: the Venue 8 Pro and the Venue 11 Pro. With the launch of these two slates, the company officially moves away from Windows RT. The Venue 8 Pro, a pocketable 8-inch device with a 1280 x 800 IPS display and pen input, is one of the only competitors in the space of sub-10-inch Windows tablets. The slate includes Intel's new quad-core Bay Trail CPU, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and 10 hours of battery life. It's scheduled to go on sale on October 18 in the U.S., priced at $300.

The Venue 11 Pro, conversely, is a real rival for the Microsoft Surface Pro 2. It features a 1920 x 1080 HD IPS display, and can be powered either by Intel's quad-core Bay Trail processor or a fourth-generation Haswell CPU that goes up to Core i5. With its specs maxed out, the Venue 11 Pro can support 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and it includes WiDi, NFC, a full-size USB port, HDMI port, and a microSD slot. Also worthy of note, the Venue 11 Pro's battery is removable—so in an emergency, users can swap it out with a fully charged one (if they're away from their charger).

In the realm of laptops, Dell refreshed its reliable XPS 13 and XPS 15 models, endowing both of them with Intel's Haswell processors. The XPS 15 got the drastic upgrade, as it now flaunts a truly impressive quad HD+ IGZO display; it's 3200 x 1800 pixels, higher even than the Retina MacBook Pro (2880 x 1800). It also boasts Nvidia graphics, 1TB of hard drive space in addition to a 32GB solid state drive (you can also opt for a single 512GB SSD), NFC, and voice features. Meanwhile, the Dell XPS 13 has gotten upgraded to sport a 1080p touchscreen, and improved graphics and battery life. The XPS 15 comes out on October 15 and goes for a $1500 starting price tag, while the XPS 13 will arrive in November, starting at $1000.

Finally, Dell revealed more details about its XPS 11 foldable Ultrabook: It'll feature a Haswell processor, solid state storage, and a Gorilla Glass touch display flaunting a dense 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution. There's a keyboard too, of course, which folds around the XPS 11's back at 180 degrees. The XPS 11 costs $1000 and will be available this November.
Source: popularmechanicsdotcom

Google accused of illegal Gmail wiretapping

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Washington: Google has been reportedly accused of illegally wiretapping Gmail content of its users to send them targeted ads.

The search giant has been accused by plaintiffs and privacy rights advocates over the years and the lawsuits have been merged into two separate cases, questioning the extent to the company's wiretapping via its emailing service and its Street View mapping project.

However, Google defending its methods has struggled to persuade overseers and its users that it protects consumer data, while arguing that the law is stuck in the past and has failed to keep up with new technologies, the New York Times reports.

The wiretapping rulings could have broad effects on Google's service, because nearly half a billion people worldwide use it and if it is a certified class action, the fines would be enormous and could have long-term consequences for all other e-mail services.

The plaintiffs have accused the search giant of scanning their email content violating state and federal anti-wiretapping laws, in order to provide targeted ads .

Judge Lucy H. Koh has denied Google's motion in the 43-page order and dismissed the company's argument that Gmail users consented to the interception and that non-Gmail users who communicated with Gmail users also knew that their messages could be read.

Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law said that the ruling has the potential to really reshape the entire e-mail industry.
Source : zeenewsindia