Author Archives: Josiah Zayner

Josiah Zayner

About Josiah Zayner

Dr. Josiah Zayner (yeah I know pretty pretentious right?) received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics from the University of Chicago and currently works as a Research Fellow at NASA where he engineers bacteria for in situ resource utilization and sustainability for long-term space exploration and colonization. He has a number of Scientific publications and awards for his work on protein engineering and is also recipient of Art awards for creating Speculative Science works including the Chromochord, the first ever bioelectronic musical instrument. His Art looks to the future of humanity to challenge the boundaries of what Science and Art may be. Josiah (this third person stuff is weird) is also the creator of The ILIAD project, a citizen Science search for natural antibiotics and the Founder and CEO of The Open Discovery Institute(ODIN), DIY Science's first store. He enjoys Whiskey and Red Bull, sometimes together. His work has been featured in Scientific American, Popular Science, Businessweek and NPR, among others.

Is Beating a DNA Test Possible?

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Humans contain about 25,0000 protein coding genes and much more non-protein coding DNA, all of which uniquely identifies us. Because of this, DNA tests have become the standard is criminal forensics for identification of individuals at the scene of a crime. When done properly these tests can identify individuals with a theoretical probability of 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000(1018). These statistics come from using the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS and focuses on identity through only 13 genes (alleles). Well, it is not actually 13 genes, it is only small parts of 13 genes. To me this seems like a very breakable and hackable system so let’s talk think about that for a minute or seven.

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The Future of Microbiome Forensics

bacteriaEverywhere we go we leave microscopic traces of ourselves, and we collect microscopic traces of others. Microscopic DNA left at the scene of a crime is commonly used to identify criminals and substantiate evidence against them. What about other microscopic traces humans leave behind or even collect, can we be identified or tracked based solely on the bacteria that inhabit our body?

Yes.

Everyone’s skin is covered in bacteria, it is all over you and the surfaces you interact with. Scientists call each community of bacteria a microbiome. Until the past few years this knowledge was little more than a curiosity as Scientists attempted to understand if this population of bacteria on our bodies affected us in any way. Then some studies came around which suggested that bacteria influence things like mammalian circadian clocks and appetites. Some others attempted to quantify the types and amounts of bacteria on our skin, inside our body, and in our environments. From all of this, Scientists began to see that both the microbiome of our environments and our bodies have unique qualities.

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