Designer genes

James Bidlack
Photo: Shannon Cornman

Two Edmond men recently created The Genome Registry, and people now can do just that. It launched in September with the work of a University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) professor and a local entrepreneur.

Oklahoma City businessman Hal Stevens came up with the naming concept way back in 2001, but with the lack of scientific knowledge and technology in those days, his idea wasn’t only impractical but impossible.

Fast-forward to 2013, when scientists routinely study genomes to better understand disorders, diseases, evolution and ancestry. Stevens turned to UCO biology professor James Enderby Bidlack to make his business dream a reality.

“The Genome Registry will help get the general public more interested and involved with genomic research,” Bidlack said.

As this new business came together, UCO’s Clocktower Studio student-run design firm and the school’s InkTank Studio student staff designed a company logo and website. Stevens, the registry’s president and CEO, wanted as much local input as possible.

“Having lived in Edmond for a good portion of my life, it was very important to me to include people from Edmond in developing this business,” Stevens said. “UCO is an incredible university with world-class talented individuals.”

Why name a gene?

While the scientific community has a good way to keep track of genes and their functions, the registry was created to help the general public appreciate and learn more about how this is done, Stevens said.

Bidlack agreed. “The timing is perfect because the full sequencing and mapping of genomes has improved with recent technology,” he said. “Genomic research is in an exponential phase right now, and there is a great need for public understanding of the importance and relevance of this work.”

Genomes
make up every organism on Earth, but here’s where it gets a little
complicated: In humans, there are 46 chromosomes, including the X and Y
chromosomes. While the mother of a child contributes the X chromosome,
the father donates either the X or Y chromosome that ultimately
determines gender: XX for a girl, XY for a boy.

These
“sex chromosomes,” along with the remaining chromosomes, determine the
uniqueness of one’s eyes, ears, hair, skin and so many other traits
that make an individual just that. Within each of the 46 human
chromosomes are segments of DNA called genes, and it is believed humans
have between 20,000 and 30,000 genes that encode for unique traits.

But
registry applicants may choose from almost anything. Customers can
choose genes from a list of species cataloged by The Genome Registry, or
they can make a special request to find a gene with a particular
function. The list includes genes from about 100 species and all living
kingdoms. The most popular gene assignments have been from humans,
although genes from other animals (buffalo, dogs, horses, rabbits,
etc.), plants (alfalfa, carrot, rose, soybean, etc.) and the remaining
biological kingdoms are available.

Billions and billions

The
Genome Registry can assign any sequenced and mapped genome at the
customer’s request. At least 1.7 million known species exist, with some
having up to 5,000 genes in their makeup. Combining all these genes
together means there is a possible universe of 8.5 billion genes that
The Genome Registry can assign to clients.

Heck,
you can even register bacterial species — there are a total of 5
billion bacterial genes to choose from. (A tribute to your ex, perhaps?)
Combining these genes with those that can be assigned from nonbacterial
species, 13.5 billion genes are up for grabs. That’s almost twice the
entire human population.

Pricing
starts at $39 and includes a certificate showing the gene designation, a
graphical representation and description of the gene and a letter of
congratulations from Stevens.

Imagine
naming a gene in the rose family for your loved one on your
anniversary, or naming a giant panda gene for your child who loves
bears.

And to do a
good deed, Stevens said, a portion of proceeds benefit TriBeta
Biological Honor Society and/ or Wildlife Habitat Council to aid
undergraduate scientific education and research and wildlife
conservation. Learn more at thegenomeregistry.com.

Larisa Leichter

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