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Genome to Go

It’s already possible to have your own genome sequenced. But personalized medicine based on sequencing still has a way to go

3 min read
historic X-ray diffraction image of DNA
Photo: Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers/ Oregon State University Libraries

Next month marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. To ordinary folks, the image (known as Photo 51) that confirmed the Watson-Crick model doesn’t look like anything. But without this image—and without the brilliant work of X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin—the Cambridge lads had a theory and a model but no actual proof that DNA was indeed “the molecule of life.” It took Franklin’s technical know-how and perseverance for that secret to be revealed.

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Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light

Gene therapy and optoelectronics could radically upgrade hearing for millions of people

13 min read
A computer graphic shows a gray structure that’s curled like a snail’s shell. A big purple line runs through it. Many clusters of smaller red lines are scattered throughout the curled structure.

Human hearing depends on the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. A new kind of cochlear implant for people with disabling hearing loss would use beams of light to stimulate the cochlear nerve.

Lakshay Khurana and Daniel Keppeler
Blue

There’s a popular misconception that cochlear implants restore natural hearing. In fact, these marvels of engineering give people a new kind of “electric hearing” that they must learn how to use.

Natural hearing results from vibrations hitting tiny structures called hair cells within the cochlea in the inner ear. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged or dysfunctional parts of the ear and uses electrodes to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, which sends signals to the brain. When my hearing-impaired patients have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time, they often report that voices sound flat and robotic and that background noises blur together and drown out voices. Although users can have many sessions with technicians to “tune” and adjust their implants’ settings to make sounds more pleasant and helpful, there’s a limit to what can be achieved with today’s technology.

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