The one-time front man for heavy metal band Black Sabbath has joined the likes of DNA co-discoverer James Watson and Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates on the short roster of people to have their full genome sequenced and analyzed.
Ozzy Osbourne let a little blood to submit to the testing in July. Cofactor Genomics, a Saint Louis–based company, sequenced Osbourne’s genome; Knome, Inc., which also helped raise money for the project, analyzed the data.
For his part, Osbourne was at first skeptical about the project. But the platinum-record artist then began to wonder if he, in fact, might have something to offer science.
“I was curious,” he wrote in his column. “Given the swimming pools of booze I’ve guzzled over the years—not to mention all of the cocaine, morphine, sleeping pills, cough syrup, LSD, Rohypnol…you name it—there’s really no plausible medical reason why I should still be alive. Maybe my DNA could say why.”
But what can a bunch of genetic code tell us about someone’s propensity to become the ordained “Godfather of Heavy Metal” or to bite the head off a live bat on stage
Scientific American spoke with Jorge Conde, co-founder and chief executive of Cambridge, Mass.–based Knome, and Nathan Pearson, the company’s director of research, who had sat down with Ozzy earlier to go over the results of the analysis.
Can we see in his genome any traces of his legendary rock-and-roll lifestyle—or evidence of his body’s efforts to repair any damage?
Conde: We cannot find the “Ozzy Osbourne” gene. But what we did see, as one of our scientists refers to it, is a lot of interesting smoke—but not any specific fire. We found many variants—novel variants—in genes associated with addiction and metabolism that are interesting but not quite definitive.
So can his genomes tell us anything about his ability to survive so many years of hard partying?
Pearson: I talked with Ozzy, and we looked at the genome with an eye toward the nerves. If you think about what makes Ozzy unusual, it’s that he’s a world-class musician, he has an addictive personality, he has a tremor, he’s dyslexic, he gets up very early in the morning. And many of these can be traced back to the nervous system.
One variant involves a gene that makes CLTCL1, which is a really interesting protein. When a cell takes in things from the outside membrane, it pulls itself in like a basket to pull things in. It does this in all kinds of cells, including nerve cells. He has two copies of an unusual variant that makes a grossly different version of the protein than most people produce. Here’s a gene that’s central to how nerve cells communicate with each other, so it’s curious to us to see a grossly different protein variant. It’s thought provoking.
Were there any big surprises hiding in his genome?
Pearson: For a long time we thought that Neandertals didn’t have any descendents today, but it turns out that Asians and Europeans have some evidence of Neandertal lineage—like a drop in the bucket. We found a little segment on Ozzy’s chromosome 10 that very likely traces back to a Neandertal forebearer.
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