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Most Popular Human Cell In Science Gets Sequenced

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the this-post-was-written-with-HeLa-cells dept.

Biotech 63

ananyo writes "The research world's most famous human cell has had its genome decoded, and it's a mess. German researchers this week report the genome sequence of the HeLa cell line, which originates from a deadly cervical tumor taken from a patient named Henrietta Lacks (Slashdot has previously noted a film made about the cells and there's a recent mutli-award winning book on Lacks). Established the same year that Lacks died in 1951, HeLa cells were the first human cells to grow well in the laboratory. The cells have contributed to more than 60,000 research papers, the development of a polio vaccine in the 1950s and, most recently, an international effort to characterize the genome, known as ENCODE. The team's work shows that HeLa cells contain one extra version of most chromosomes, with up to five copies of some, and raises further questions over the widespread use of HeLa cells as models for human cell biology."

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Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (-1, Offtopic)

Press2ToContinue (2424598) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185245)

get/get/Verb: Come to have or hold (something); receive
Experience, suffer, or be afflicted with (something bad)

"gets sequenced?"
wouldn't simply "sequenced" have been better?
"gets" is present-tense, "sequenced" is past tense.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (2, Insightful)

YodasEvilTwin (2014446) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185327)

Apparently you don't speak to many live human beings.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185409)

Like those HeLa cells, he grows in the lab, isolated from live human beings.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185411)

Maybe he speaks to many live, educated, human beings.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185663)

Ones who all laugh at him, apparently. And you.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185911)

Maybe he speaks to many live, educated, human beings.

Not if he lives in Pittsburgh.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (3, Insightful)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about a year and a half ago | (#43187479)

Maybe he speaks to many live, educated, human beings.

Yes, the zeitgeist is for intelligent people to drop in a few bon mots of another language. In fact, I'd say it's a sina qua non, a very important shibboleth that distinguishes the literate from the phillistine.

And as the partially-agentive-passive (get done etc) isn't a direct analogue of a classical Latin form, it's obviously stupid.

Seriously, when we stop pegging people as stupid simply because they speak actual real-life English, we'll find that the world contains far more people of intelligence than you ever imagined.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

Myopic (18616) | about a year and a half ago | (#43194993)

Fair enough but I personally will never give up on "literally". You can have "get sequenced" and "beg the question" and "whom", but I will cling to "literally" until my dying day.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about a year and a half ago | (#43189481)

Maybe he speaks to many live, wrongly educated human beings.

TFTFY. (Including removal of the extraneous comma.)

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185729)

There are different expectations for informal chatting and for edited prose. It's appropriate to call out an (alleged) editor when his published prose looks like informal chatting.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185497)

"Gets" can also mean "becomes", and "sequenced" here is a past participle (called a passive participle by some grammarians), not a past tense finite verb.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43187945)

"Gets" can also mean "becomes", and "sequenced" here is a past participle (called a passive participle by some grammarians), not a past tense finite verb.

I'm responding to this just to say I hate you.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185869)

get/get/Verb: Come to have or hold (something); receive
Experience, suffer, or be afflicted with (something bad)

"gets sequenced?"
wouldn't simply "sequenced" have been better?
"gets" is present-tense, "sequenced" is past tense.

Yinz clothes needs worshed.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186149)

Wrench um out all good n'at. We going dan'tawn tonight!

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186753)

I know someone never gets laid.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about a year and a half ago | (#43189415)

I know someone never gets laid.

No wonder. That guy doesn't know jack about grammar.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (2)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about a year and a half ago | (#43189361)

"sequenced" is past tense.

No. Just No.

Grammar Nazi? Pffffft--you're not even a Grammar Hitler Youth, boyo.

"Sequenced" is a participle, which functions as an adjective, not a verb, and thus has no tense of its own.

In addition, it's a passive participle, which means that the noun described is the recipient of the action, rather than its cause.

Also, 'to get' is a perfectly acceptable if not entirely formal substitute for 'to be' in passive constructions. German and Swedish don't have this problem, always preferring werden and bli, both meaning specifically 'to become', respectively, and never admit sein and vara in this sense. We English speakers got screwed up because we layered Vulgar Latin/Norman French progressive tenses on top of the Germanic passive and perfect. This was further complicated by the fact that the latter used 'to be' with verbs of motion and 'to have' with others, a distinction still strictly made in modern German (always er ist gegangen, never er hat gegangen) and optional in modern English (he has gone or he is gone [an exception to be usual rule of 'to have + participle = active perfect, to be + participle = passive']), BTW).

Don't swim with the sharks if you don't know which end of the speargun to point at yourself.

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

quenda (644621) | about a year and a half ago | (#43193943)

Heil Zontar!

Re:Editor must be from Pittsburgh? (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about a year and a half ago | (#43195189)

Actually, I see myself a bit more like this [photobucket.com] . :^)

Cloning (1)

lobiusmoop (305328) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185355)

I wonder if she will be cloned in the distant future? Ideal source material to use for consistent, replicable experimental results over a long period of time. Fix the 'infinite lives' mod that's gotten into the genome and it's perfect. She really will live forever I think.

Re:Cloning (5, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185569)

That's not Ms. Lack's genome anymore. The summary says it has more than the usual number of chromosomes. Cancer cells generally lose the ability to maintain their genomes, they become very unstable, allowing a bizzare, short-term form of evolution to occur. More mutations allow the cancer to get better at proliferating and invading, at least right up until the host dies. Usually, anyway, HeLa is or was unique in that it managed to escape it's own doom, much like we might need to do with Earth.

Sorry, got off topic there. Anyway, cloning HeLa cells, as in putting the genome into a fertilized egg like Dolly the sheep, that would probably not make a complete embryo. I'm not familiar with HeLa's genome, but I think it's likely they've lost the ability to control cell division, cell death, and/or cell differentiation. You need those processes to make anything that looks like an embryo. You'd likely end up with just another petrie dish of HeLa cells. It would be a neat if ethically questionable experiment.

Re:Cloning (1)

Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186245)

>> Usually, anyway, HeLa is or was unique in that it managed to escape it's own doom, much like we might need to do with Earth.

Well, it seems that someone cloned George Carlin and he now goes by the nickname "interkin3tic". Welcome back! :-D

Re:Cloning (1)

Fifth Earth (1172333) | about a year and a half ago | (#43192725)

Indeed. The book suggests, and I agree, that effectively HeLa is it's own species. it was already abnormal for a human cell, being cancerous, and since then various mutations have taken it even farther from the normal human genome.

Re:Cloning (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185611)

Not to mention that is creepy as shit. She has already had her cells and genome taken from her without permission, and made any number of scientists and companies very well off without any compensation going to her family, and now you want to clone her without her permission?
What.
The.
Crap.
She was a living breathing human being with agency, lets not make any more of a mockery of medical ethics than we already have.

Re:Cloning (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186311)

I am confused – what do you think a better idea would be?

Let each person copy write their genes? Every time a scientist wants to study the process of life they have to pay you? Maybe if you have a special gene you get a cut from any drug that is developed from it? (That idea, thankfully, has been struck down by Federal Court.)

Re:Cloning (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about a year and a half ago | (#43189433)

You appear to believe that genomes are or should be copyrightable.

On what basis do you make this assumption?

Re:Cloning (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year and a half ago | (#43190425)

No I don't - If you had read the parent they suggested she should have been compensated for the use of her genetic material - which natural leads to copy write of said material, which would be a very bad idea.

Re:Cloning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43201435)

God. It's "copyright" or "copyrighted". Never "-write". Get it straight.

Also, you don't find it ethically dubious that some docs took her cells without permission and profited from that without even considering sharing the proceeds?

So, as a hypothetical, you wouldn't mind if someone took your genome without your permission and started making clones of you? Or took samples of your gametes without your permission and sold them for others to use to procreate?

Re:Cloning (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43187601)

Imagine that tomorrow, we found a way to clone Albert Einstein. Let's make that a few hundred clones, to compensate for developmental factors. Now, according to you, we ought not to do that because we can't ask? There's little logic in that. Honestly, I have no Idea why I should have any control or say as far as any potential clones of mine are concerned, including during my lifetime. See, they would be physically separate human beings with rights of their own, having nothing to do with me. I don't see how they would differ from any other children that get born every year by tens of millions.

That's a hell of a mutation (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185361)

5 copies of some chromosomes? That seems likely to be an artifact of many many generations of mitosis, not something the original sample had. The good news is that we'll have better experimental controls in future science. The bad news is that this might invalidate a lot of research.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (4, Interesting)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185441)

The original sample was the cancer which killed Henrietta Lacks. Cancers generally have rampant chromosomal aberrations, though it is not entirely reasoned out if the aberrations are a cause or consequence of the unregulated growth which defines the cancer.

This result doesn't invalidate any science. Every experiment using a model teaches us something about the model. We make inferences from those results which we apply and test in other systems, such as human medicine. Given that there are humans walking around with alterations to their chromosomes (admittedly at a lesser level than this), even results from one human don't necessarily apply to any other human.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185561)

Sure, I get what you're saying. Invalidates is way too strong a word. But you have to acknowledge that 5 is possibly not characteristic of the cancer when she died, that the strain may have had more mutation since being created, right?

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185855)

you have had mutations since you were created.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (5, Informative)

pchimp (767649) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186051)

You're exactly right, and this type of criticism does come up occasionally when using HeLa. This is a cell line that is prone to mutation that has been been cultured artificially for more than half a century: it has evolved to live in a dish. It's not comparable to taking primary cells from a fresh healthy (or cancerous) human cervix. Additionally, it's fairly certain that HeLa has differentiated into a wide number of distinct cell lines at this point, though we still generally refer to it as a monolithic cell line.

It does not invalidate studies using HeLa, but it kind of highlights that HeLa is more properly viewed as a model organism (i.e. an easily bred life form that can teach us about basic biological principles, and is also close enough to humans to be medically relevant). And this is how it is used -- biologists are not unaware of the caveats associated with these lines.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186181)

I suspect once single cell imaging and sequencing become mainstream the entire book on signal transduction will need to be rewritten due to all the artefactual junk. The shame is that authors are currently discouraged from publishing their complete methods and data (eg all those times it "didnt work"), making the job much more difficult than it needs to be.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (2)

glwtta (532858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186285)

You're not getting it. It's likely that the 5 copies were characteristic of the cancer cells when she died - as the parent said, cancer cells are all sorts of fucked up.

That's entirely besides the point, though. These cell lines are not used as a model of cancer they're used as a model of human cells. Those working with them understand the limitations of the model (most of the time, at least); it's well known that cell lines are not the same thing as cells in a live organism, no one was assuming otherwise.

There is no new information here. This is a little like looking at humans and mice, noticing that they are different, and announcing that this "Invalidates all research done on mice!"

Please don't assume that all researchers are idiots all of the time.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186469)

Calling this "no new information" is totally ignorant. This type of research should be on the top of every funding agency's list. We need to know "in what ways is this system different from others" and "how different is it in each of those ways" in order to make educated guesses about how likely it is for the result to translate to systems beyond each cell line. Currently the way this is done is a completely ad hoc informal mess leading us down who knows how many false paths.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#43188309)

The original sample was the cancer which killed Henrietta Lacks. Cancers generally have rampant chromosomal aberrations, though it is not entirely reasoned out if the aberrations are a cause or consequence of the unregulated growth which defines the cancer.

Let's call that YES and YES. Without genetic abnormality, there can be no cancer. Once the cancer exists, it evolves on its own, independent of the reproductive or even survival criteria of the parent organism. It evolves on its own, adapting itself to whatever conditions it exists in and growing as fast as possible.

It would be possible at least in principle for any individual animal or plant to spawn many new species of microbes that exist in the wild or possibly could invade other organisms. It's unlikely though. Our cells are the products of a billion generations of adaptation to functioning in a muliticellular organism. It's unlikely that they could exist on their own outside our bodies long enough to adapt -- except in the lab.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (3, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185587)

I doubt it will invalidate much research. Everyone who uses them is aware that HeLa cells aren't really "human" cells, all research should have been based on the understanding that the genome was a bloody mess. Most of the research I've seen on it has been about cell division, which it doesn't seem too messed up with.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (1)

pchimp (767649) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186135)

Most of the research I've seen on it has been about cell division, which it doesn't seem too messed up with.

Though I broadly agree with your observation (cell division is one of the most highly regulated cellular processes, and prone to failure if anything is screwed up), it is worth noting that HeLa does seem to have a problem, or at least abnormality, with the spindle checkpoint (a critical mechanism in cell division) if it has many multiple chromosome copies.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43189821)

I doubt it will invalidate much research. Everyone who uses them is aware that HeLa cells aren't really "human" cells

Well, yes and no, because not everyone is aware. I'm sure "the cells have contributed to more than 60,000 research papers", as TFS says, and I'd like to stress they have contributed to far more papers, as many cell lines thought to be genuine (say, brain tumor, kidney tumor, liver tumor and whatnot) are just a proliferated contamination of HeLa cells. Lots of papers about specific cell lines/models are worthless as they just describe ordinary HeLa cells.

To conclude my comment with a Soviet Russia joke (albeit true, no kidding):

In Soviet Russia, HeLa cells contaminated cell cultures of YOU long before the end of the Cold War.

IAAMBAHDLOWOUHC (I am a molecular biologist and have done lots of work using HeLa cells).

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185621)

Actually, in my lab we have analyzed a number of primary tumors (not cell lines) and we have found this kind of genomic aberrations in most of them. It really depends on the tumor type.

Re:That's a hell of a mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186101)

How is invalidating invalid research a bad thing?

Obvious pun is obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43187273)

Don't you mean "That's HeLa mutation"?

What was your first clue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185449)

The fact that the cell line originates in a cancer tumor should have been your first hint.

Deadly Tumor Cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185453)

Seeing as a leading cause of cancer is DNA becoming damaged (radiation including UV, viruses, etc) why'd nobody until now think of the possibility that cells taken from a deadly cancerous tumor might just possibly have f'd up DNA?!

Re:Deadly Tumor Cells (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185593)

Everyone DID assume it, so it wasn't exactly a high priority to figure out HOW messed up it was.

Re:Deadly Tumor Cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186621)

That is dumb. Why would it not be a priority to understand how the systems we use as proxies differ from what we really want to know about (human health usually)? Just settling for the assumption that something is different someway, somehow is totally unscientific. It's a major problem with biomedical research.

Re:Deadly Tumor Cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185969)

Stop the fucking presses, I think this guys stumbled upon something significant that no one has thought of! Better give call the head of the NSF. Tell him you're from slashdot, and you'll get right through.

Re:Deadly Tumor Cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186591)

Not to worry, they've surely read it here already & are expecting him.

The only surprise was just HOW THOROUGHLY (2)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186623)

this particular cancer's DNA was fouled up.

Even that was not all THAT surprising. Most cancers tend to be weak - because the continuous reproduction leads to them skipping things they would normally do in idle time between reproductions and also causes them to use up resources on reproduction as fast as they can absorb them.

Many cancer therapies are built around this, ALMOST killing off the normal cells in the hope of JUST BARELY killing off the weaker cancer cells. (An exception to the above is Melanoma, which gets extra energy as a side-effect of synthesizing melanin, making it more robust than normal tissue.)

HeLa is very robust and invasive - to the point of being able to survive outside the original host body and contaminate cell cultures. (In fact a now-discarded theory of cancer cell progression, with all types of cancer gradually mutating and converging on a set of common characteristics, turned out to be based on an illusion caused by the robust HeLa cancer cells scattered about in research laboratories eventually contaminating cultures of other cancer cell lines and taking them over.)

Cells with more copies of chromosomes tend to be more robust. So it's not too surprising that this line has extra copies of most chromosomes.

Abnormal cells as models? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185495)

When I was much younger and heard about cloning, I started thinking about saving some of my DNA so someone could clone me someday. (Yes, I was born into a conspiracy-prone family [crackle of tinfoil].) Then, one day when I was thinking what would be best to save, and before I had heard of stem cells that can grow into different cell types, I looked at a scab I had just pulled off a healing cut. It occurred to me that if they cloned from this scab, maybe my clone would be a brown, scaly, wrinkly version of a human.

I tossed the scab and the idea.

If it were better to get "normal" type tissue for DNA samples, who would define normal? What if there were one little cancer cell in there that was undetectable by normal means, or a cell with DNA for some kind of genes for mental illness? We hardly know what we're messing with at this pont.

Re:Abnormal cells as models? (1)

TWX (665546) | about a year and a half ago | (#43185865)

Cells from the lining of the stomach. At least that's what Diana Muldaur told me...

SCIENCE: Ruining Everything Since 1543 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43185523)

Obligatory [kickstarter.com]

Just imagine a "Supernatural" episode (3, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year and a half ago | (#43186115)

...with the ghost of Ms. Lacks. They'd have to salt & burn every last cell line.

HeLa? More like hella. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186145)

That's a hella cell line.

Scratchin' my head on this one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43186783)

So how'd they get a cell from my penis?

Re:Scratchin' my head on this one... (1)

tbird81 (946205) | about a year and a half ago | (#43187339)

So how'd they get a cell from my penis?

They simply took half of the number of cells in your penis.

mutli-award (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | about a year and a half ago | (#43187705)

That must be a new one. I've never heard of the "mutli" award.

(Can't people even take care to make a summary correct?)

They stole her cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43188183)

I just think it is important to note that they never asked her and never informed her when they decided to keep her tumor cells and not incenerate them like normal. Also, it is simply sequenced, as in we sequenced BLAH BLAH BLAH, or BLAH BLAH BLAH sequenceds.

Re:They stole her cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43189475)

1. She was dead.

2. This was nearly 75 years ago. They did things a bit differently back then.

3. The last guy to talk about "gets sequenced" had his ass handed back to him on a platter. Learn from his example.

HeLa cells are the dominant life form (1)

MassiveForces (991813) | about a year and a half ago | (#43190313)

Compared to Henrietta Lacks, it's interesting to note that her cell line is a much more successful offspring, in a way, being cultured up to thousands of times her body weight in labs around the world. Anyway in my work modelling toxicological processes I like to avoid depending just on carcinoma data. All of them have shotgunned DNA and I really don't think the data they give is that useful other than for very basic ball park measurements. This is partly because they are too resilient and partly because they don't exhibit certain types of metabolism. Fortunately there are a number of normal human cell lines that can be used instead, which I prefer. The only draw back is they are more expensive as they need to be repurchased frequently and are more difficult to culture.

Ah, the good old days (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#43202013)

When doctors were treated as gods and never had to ask for permission to treat their patients as cars in a DIY junk yard, taking what they wanted.
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