How can I best save my DNA?
September 20, 2013 10:45 AM   Subscribe

It seems that we will likely be able to grow new organs or bodies in the future. I would like to save my own DNA while i'm still young and healthy, so that I can have a less degraded blueprint available when I need it. I am having a hard time making sense of the options available to me; does anyone have any knowledge (academic, anecdotal, or personal) that would be useful here? Thanks in advance, dgstieber.
posted by DGStieber to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Because of natural events that result in retroviral infection, mosaicism and cancer, as examples, there is no one, single, coherent genotype (set of DNA) everywhere in your body. If you were to put your genome into a databank or freezer to try to rebuild organs or do other therapeutic stuff, you'd probably start by collecting, analyzing and processing lots of samples of stem cells of various tissue types in your body.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't worry about saving anything. When it's possible to take your DNA and make replacement organs, fixing any deleterious mutations that might be present in the sample will be possible as well.

(Assuming of course it would even be necessary to have a copy of your genome to make replacement organs.)
posted by sevenless at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is hearsay. But I heard that you can preserve the umbilical cord and placenta at birth. That will preserve a number of stem cells for the baby which can already be used to cure certain diseases. I don't know the details of this though, and I think it's too late for anybody reading this to try for themselves.
posted by ethidda at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2013

DNA doesn't "degrade", the way you're thinking. It isn't like that.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:05 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I heard that you can preserve the umbilical cord and placenta at birth.

That is called "cord-blood banking" -- there are companies that advertise this service to soon-to-be-parents. Their flyers contain a minimum of 110% of the USRDA of fear-mongering, guilt-inducement and misinformation.

If you really want to preserve your health? Eat right, exercise, and keep fit. That's going to give you a vastly better chance of improved longevity, health, and quality of life than trying to preserve DNA towards some vague future technological possibility.
posted by ook at 12:54 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with the posters above that this isn't necessary and doesn't really make sense, but if you wanted to do it probably the simplest way is just storing a blood sample (or any tissue sample) in liquid nitrogen.
posted by pombe at 2:09 PM on September 20, 2013

Take a q-tip and wipe the inside of one cheek. Use the other end of the q-tip and wipe the inside of the other cheek. Put the q-tip in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer.
posted by orsonet at 2:49 PM on September 20, 2013

probably the simplest way is just storing a blood sample (or any tissue sample) in liquid nitrogen

(Red) blood cells do not have nuclei and therefore do not have DNA in them. Though a generic blood draw contains more than red blood cells and could be fractionated to recover other highly-specialized cells that do have nuclei.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:05 PM on September 20, 2013

Best answer: I think you're going about this all wrong. The cells most likely to have your "original" (see Blazecock Pileon's comment) genome are going to be your neurons or cardiac cells. Most (not all) of those cells have been with you throughout your entire life, and will only die when you die. They would also be relatively unaltered by retroviruses as any viral infection would likely have killed you if it had infected those cells.

Additionally, most of the cells with DNA so damaged as to make the cell potentially non-functional have destroyed themselves through apoptosis, ensuring that the surviving cells have relatively undamaged genomes. However, some of them have had their genomes damaged in such a way that under the right conditions cancer will develop, but I would have much more confidence in a genome extracted from a living cell than I would have in a genome pulled out of a cell that had been in a nitrogen bath after 30 years because the fact that the cell is living indicates a genome that is probably viable, whereas these is no indication of the viability of a genome isolated from a preserved cell stuck in nitrogen.

I suppose you could have your genome sequenced and stored digitally, but what's the actual error rate of that? 0.5%??? 0.05%? could be a serious problem if its the wrong genes that get the errors. Part of the reason DNA works is that its gets a lot of shots are getting it right, and kills off the copies of DNA that aren't quite right. Sequencing your DNA wouldn't have that safeguard.

You are your own best copy.
posted by 517 at 8:57 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Qualification: biology grad student currently up to his eyeballs in frog DNA.

Your DNA doesn't significantly degrade over your lifespan. Sure, individual cells might pick up mutations here and there, but any DNA sample is going to be an extract of the genetic contents of thousands of cells, which will be sort of averaged out into a consensus sequence. If one or two cells have a deletion at base 230,765 on chromosome 17 or whatever, that's no big deal because the other five thousand cells in the sample will still be good at that spot and the noise will be lost in the signal. (This is an oversimplification, but it's true enough for this context.)

That said, if I wanted to preserve a bit of my own DNA for some reason (outside of my body) and I didn't have access to a lab, I would probably cut a bit of flesh off of a fingertip with a sterile blade, drop it into a sterile container full of Everclear (you want 95% non-denatured Ethanol, so drugstore or hardware store alcohol is no good) and pop it in the freezer in an insulated container full of ice.

If I did have a lab then I would extract the DNA from the tissue sample and stick it in the minus-80, or better yet in a dewar of liquid nitrogen. I would also boil the extract gently before freezing, to destroy any DNAses that might be in the extract.

But seriously, don't bother. We only do that in science when we don't have access to the living body that the DNA comes from. As long as you are alive, your flesh will be by far the most high-quality source of your DNA aaround. The human body has all kinds of incredible mechanisms for protecting and repairing DNA, I mean an organism is in a certain reductionist sense just a vessel for protecting and reproducing faithful copies of DNA. Nothing we can do outside the body really comes close.
posted by Scientist at 11:48 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's an interesting idea. While I personally believe that biomedical research progresses way too slowly for this to be a concern for you (or even your grandchildren), it is nevertheless conceivable that the technology to regenerate an organ could be achieved within your lifetime, particularly utilising induced pluripotent stem cells. And an IPSC approach does come with a potential proliferation vs. error dilemma. Basically, the approach requires donor cells that have a good proliferative capacity (i.e. fibroblasts), in order to facilitate the introduction of certain "re-programming" genes. But those same sort of cells tend to be prone to replication errors and telomere shortening with age. Non-dividing cells, such as cardiac cells, would have better quality DNA (as 517 pointed out), but they are far more refractive to the sort of procedures required to create IPS cells (not to mention the issues associated with isolating them from a living individual!). So yes, in principle one could argue that, say, taking a skin biopsy now, culturing the fibroblasts out and freezing them down could provide a better quality source of future IPS cells than if you were to wait until you're 75**. But ultimately there is no evidence to suggest this is actually true, and I'd be surprised if there were any agency that would provide such a service. It would also be pretty expensive over the long-term. That being said, some companies already to this for research purposes (using baby foreskin), and it would be a damn sight cheaper than keeping whole bodies frozen, which some people are willing to pay for, so maybe there's a business model in there after all.

**Note here that freezing cells and thawing them out bypasses a few of the quality-control issues that are associated with long-term storage of naked DNA that Scientist raises.

If you really want to exploit cutting-edge genetic technology to further your lifespan, wait a couple of years and get your genome sequenced. It's becoming cheaper and cheaper, and as we get better at understanding all of the polymorphisms and mutations (i.e. the variation) of the human genome, so improves our ability to predict which diseases you might be at increased risk for. Which means that targeted preventative medicine is not some hand-wavy potential possibility in the future (like organ regeneration), it is already becoming a reality today.
posted by kisch mokusch at 9:09 AM on September 21, 2013

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