Everyday DNA 2023 Top 5

An Everyday DNA blog article

Written by: Sarah Sharman, PhD
Illustrated by: Cathleen Shaw 

This blog was created three years ago to serve as a channel for widely sharing HudsonAlpha’s groundbreaking research. Throughout 2023, we brought our readers stories about how genomic information is helping develop life-saving diagnostics and treatments and breed more sustainable plants for bioproducts. We traveled to deserts and oceans to learn how genomics is helping create more adaptable plants in the face of our changing climate. We highlighted wide-ranging careers in genomics and interviewed some of the scientists behind the groundbreaking discoveries. 

To wrap up 2023 and celebrate the end of the year, I want to share my top 5 stories from this year. I hope you enjoy looking back at the stories or maybe learning about them for the first time. As a bonus, I’ve included a few podcast episodes from HudsonAlpha’s science podcast, Tiny Expeditions

1. Guayule 

Guayule, pronounced why-yoo-lee, is a small perennial shrub that was unknown to me until the summer of 2022. One blog post and a podcast episode later, I now know a lot about guayule and marvel at its potential to one day be a reliable, natural source of rubber. 

Don’t take my word for it, though. Learn more about the history of natural rubber, our need for new sources of natural rubber, and how scientists are helping position guayule as a promising source of rubber by reading “Guayule: Can genetics create a natural US rubber source?” or listening to “Growing a Shrubbier Version of Rubber.”  

2. Everyday DNA Q&A- Stephanie Felker & Avinash Sreedasyam 

There’s something inspiring about hearing directly from the scientists who work on life-changing research projects. This year, Everyday DNA launched a new series called Everyday DNA Q&A, where we do just that by interviewing HudsonAlpha scientists. 

I had the pleasure of speaking with Stephanie Felker, PhD, about her thesis work using genomic technology to help diagnose rare neurodevelopmental diseases. During her time as a graduate student training at HudsonAlpha, Stephanie identified a genetic element called poison exons that could increase diagnostic rates when included in genome analysis. To learn more about this study and Stephanie’s graduate journey,  read the interview here

Shortly after launching Stephanie’s story, another scientist shared a really cool project with me. I knew I wanted to learn more and hear about his involvement in the decade-long project. Avinash Sreedasyam, PhD, is a senior scientist at the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center who worked on developing a giant resource for plant scientists called JGI Plant Gene Atlas. You can read the interview here.

3. Forensic genetic genealogy 

If you’re a true crime fan like me, you probably know DNA is a useful tool in criminal investigations. I thought I knew a lot about forensics and genetic genealogy until I began preparing for our podcast episodes and a subsequent blog post. The use of DNA in the forensic space isn’t as straightforward as all my favorite TV shows and podcasts make it seem. 

To learn more about DNA in forensic science and hear from the Director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Science, listen to Tiny Expeditions Season 4, Episode 1 and Episode 2. If you want to learn more about other uses of genetic genealogy, read “Genetic Genealogy: DNA sleuthing to uncover familial relationships.”

4. Weaving the future 

As soon as temperatures drop below seventy degrees outside, you’ll find me consistently wrapped up in a soft, warm cotton blanket at home. While a growing number of textiles are made from synthetic fibers, the process used to make them is environmentally damaging. Natural fibers are kinder to our environment, but our changing climate and growing population put pressure on the plants that produce fiber. 

Scientists are looking towards genetics to help create more resilient, adaptable fiber crops that can withstand changing temperatures and emerging pests. Learn more by reading “Weaving the future: using genetics to improve sustainable crops.”

5. Peat bogs 

When you think of major sources of carbon and greenhouse gasses on our planet, your first thought is probably not boreal forests in the far Northern Hemisphere. But these cold forests are home to vast expanses of peat bogs that store about 30 percent of the earth’s carbon. Disturbing peat bogs through human intervention (collecting peat for heating and gardening or draining bogs) or climate warming releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. 

We learned all about peat bogs and a tiny moss that is crucial to maintaining peat bogs in Tiny Expeditions Season 4, Episode 3, “Moss to the rescue: peat bogs and the fight against climate change.” 

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