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Category Archives: DNA

Have Natalee Holloway’s Remains Finally Been Found? DNA Results Promising, Says Report – Hollywood Life

Posted: August 25, 2017 at 3:40 am

After twelve years, have we finally found out what happened to Natalee Holloway? Early DNA tests on the human remains discovered in Aruba indicate they might belong to the missing teenager!

Its been more than a decade since Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba, as the Alabama native vanished on May 30, 2005. Now, 12 years later, her family might finally have some closure. Human remains discovered at a burial site in Aruba reportedly belong to a young woman of eastern European descent, according to DailyMail. Early DNA tests on these bones seem to match the remains to Natalee, as her family is of eastern European heritage. Further DNA testing is needed to confirm these initial findings, but it appears that this discovery is the breakthrough the Holloways have been hoping for.

The full DNA testing results which will determine if the bone fragments belong the missing 18-year-old girl are expected within two weeks, a source close to the case tells DailyMail. The nature of these remains means further testing is required before anything can be confirmed, the source added. The discovery is part of The Disappearance of Natalee Holloway, a docuseries featuring her father, Dave Holloway, and private investigator TJ Ward searching for answers. Natalees mother, Beth Holloway, has also assisted in the search, as she reportedly provided a saliva sample to help out in the remains DNA testing.

Experts are reportedly conducting a mitochondrial DNA test (mtDNA test) on the remains at a reputable, undisclosed lab in the US, the source tells DailyMail. These tests race a persons matrilineal or mother-sideancestry using DNA. This DNA is unchanged when passed down by the mother to all her children. If the mtDNA inside the fragments match the mtDNA in Beths saliva, itll be conclusive evidence that these remains belong to Natalee.

Natalees father made the announcement that he and TJ had discovered the remains after an 18-month undercover investigation on the Aug. 16 episode of the Today show. An individual who had personal knowledge from Joran van der Sloot, 30, the prime suspect in Natalees disappearance, led them to the remains. However, the Aruban authorities are calling Daves claim into question. During an investigation by police in an area indicated by Mr. Holloway, we found remains, but they were found to be from animals, Aruba Public Prosecutor Dorean Kardol told the Huffington Post.

Plus, the FBI says they dont have records of human remains being brought into the U.S. from Aruba in connection with the Holloway case. On top of that, if these remains did belong to Natalee, they would be useless when coming to prosecuting the killer. Tampering with the evidence aka removing them for testing violates the chain of custody. If we wanted to take the case to court, Dorean Kardol said, we would be in trouble because we could not use that evidence.

What do you think, HollywoodLifers? Do you think they might have found Natalees remains?

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Have Natalee Holloway’s Remains Finally Been Found? DNA Results Promising, Says Report – Hollywood Life

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Researchers encoded a film clip in DNA and store it inside a living … – Boing Boing

Posted: at 3:40 am

In an astonishing step forward in biomolecular computing, Harvard researchers encoded a 19th century film clip in DNA and stored it inside living bacteria. Later, they sequenced the bacterium’s genome and decoded the film. From IEEE Spectrum:

To get a movie into E. colis DNA, (neuroscientist Seth) Shipman and his colleagues had to disguise it. They converted the movies pixels into DNAs four-letter codemolecules represented by the letters A,T,G and Cand synthesized that DNA. But instead of generating one long strand of code, they arranged it, along with other genetic elements, into short segments that looked like fragments of viral DNA.

E. coli is naturally programmed by its own DNA to grab errant pieces of viral DNA and store them in its own genomea way of keeping a chronological record of invaders. So when the researchers introduced the pieces of movie-turned-synthetic DNAdisguised as viral DNAE. colis molecular machinery grabbed them and filed them away.

The Gartner Hype Cycle places emerging technologies on a rising-falling-rising curve.

Tony Fadell is best known one of the fathers of the iPod at Apple, and as the former CEO of Nest. Weve agreed to forget that he led the Google Glass division for a while, too. Today, news broke that the serial inventor and investor is now working with companies including Samsung Electronics and Foxconns []

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that millennials have learned how to get free TV with a simple antenna, for a one-time cost of about $20. Us old-schoolers have known of this ancient wisdom since, well, forever but have neglected to pass down to the younguns. But the crazy thing is that its not just []

Top-performing content doesnt come from pure inspiration. So how do you get the maximum number of eyeballs to see your marketing copy? By analyzing the impact of the keywords within. Serpstat does this all for you. It can monitor up to 200 keywords in your projects, across 10 total domains. They keep track of the []

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Researchers encoded a film clip in DNA and store it inside a living … – Boing Boing

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New DNA evidence links Warren Forrest to 2 killings – The Columbian

Posted: at 3:40 am


Clark County detectives say that new DNA evidence helps link suspected serial killer Warren Forrest to two more victims, a huge break in some of the agencys oldest unsolved murders.

Blood on a weapon used as evidence in a 1974 case against Forrest was recently determined to belong to a different victim: Martha Morrison, a 17-year-old Portland girl whose body was found in rural Dole Valley more than 40 years ago.

Morrisons body was found 120 feet from that of Carol Valenzuela, 18. Based on the proximity in time of the killings and location of the bodies, Hoss said that Forrest can also be linked to Valenzuelas death.

Up until now, nothing was physically linking him to either of those disappearances, or those bodies, Clark County Sheriffs Office Sgt. Duncan Hoss said. Its a big deal.

Forrest, 68, of Battle Ground is suspected of having at least six victims, but hes only been convicted of one murder. He is serving a life sentence at the Washington Department of Corrections Monroe Correctional Complex for the 1974 murder of 19-year-old Krista Blake of Vancouver.

Periodically, he goes before a sentencing review board, where his release is considered. The new evidence could seal his fate and keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Blake went missing on July 11, 1974, when she was last seen getting into a blue Ford van, but her remains werent found until two years later.

During those two years, Forrest went to trial for a similar crime, one that had a different outcome.

On Oct. 1, 1974, a 20-year-old Camas woman got into a van driven by Forrest, where she was threatened with a knife and bound with tape.

Forrest drove her to Lacamas Lake Park, where he raped her, shot her with an air pistol, choked her and stabbed her five times in the chest. The woman survived the attack and made her way to a public road for help.

She later identified Forrest as the man responsible and he was arrested on rape, assault and robbery charges.

In that case, Forrest was acquitted of the charges by reason of insanity, meaning the crimes were committed when Forrest was insane, and he was committed to Western State Hospital.

In 1976, Blakes body was found and Forrest was tied to her death. After a trial, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1979.

For decades, detectives suspected that Forrest was tied to homicides and disappearances of several other young women in the early 70s.

Investigators believe that Forrest is responsible for at least six other deaths and that Jamie Grisim, who disappeared in 1971 on her way home from school at 16, was his first victim.

Forrests name also comes up in connection with Barbara Ann Derry, whose body was found in 1972 and Gloria Knutson, who went missing in 1974.

Also in 1974, hunters found skeletal remains of two women in shallow graves in the Dole Valley area. One was identified as Carol Valenzuela, and the other remained unidentified for 40 years, then in 2015 was identified as Morrison.

In June 2014, the Clark County Sheriffs Office had more than a dozen open homicide investigations that dated to 1962. Major crimes detectives are often busy with the deluge of incoming cases, so then-Sheriff Garry Lucas formed a cold case unit of volunteer investigators to breathe new life into the stale investigations.

Among those volunteers was former prosecutor Denny Hunter who prosecuted the murder cases against Forrest.

When he and the other investigators sat down to asses the cases, Hunter remembered the bloodied air pistol Forrest used in the rape and assault case.

Everyone assumed the blood stain on the air pistol belonged to the original victim, Hoss said. One of the cold case detectives, instead of assuming, actually verified.

So the pistol, which had been in a secure holding area for 40-plus years, was sent to the state crime lab.

The results came back to a profile for a female Caucasian, but that profile didnt match any known DNA samples.

A year later, investigators got a break that would help them find their answer.

Nikki Costa, operations manager for the County Medical Examiners Office, took it upon herself to identify the unidentified remains found near those of Carol Valenzuela. It took her eight years, but in 2015, she was able to determine that the remains belonged to Martha Morrison.

Since then, the crime lab has connected the puzzle pieces and identified the blood found on Forrests gun as belonging to Morrison.

In this maze of events, establishing a DNA profile and identifying Martha, we turned a major corner in this case, Costa said.

The breakthrough has implications for not one, but two unsolved homicides.

Hoss said that since Morrisons body was found in such close proximity to that of Valenzuela, investigators can tie Forrest to her death too.

Detectives are still working on ironing out the details, though.

They hope to have a statement of probable cause, which outlines support for an arrest, to prosecutors in the next few weeks.

If prosecutors decide there is enough evidence for a charge, Hoss said that theyll apply for an arrest warrant and have Forrest transported to the Clark County Jail to face the charges.

Hoss said that when the cold case unit first formed, there werent high expectations for results. But the volunteer investigator worked doggedly to reinvestigate these cases, and the break, he said, is a nice payoff.

They have put all this time, energy and effort into it, and were hoping its going to finally result in a conviction and mean closure for the families, Hoss said.

We want to hold Warren accountable.

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New DNA evidence links Warren Forrest to 2 killings – The Columbian

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Missouri governor stays execution of Marcellus Williams, says officials will probe DNA evidence in the case – Washington Post

Posted: at 3:40 am

Hours before convicted killer Marcellus Williams was scheduled to die by lethal injection, Missouri’s governor has halted his execution. His attorneys argued that recent DNA evidence shows he is innocent in the killing of a former newspaper reporter. (Reuters)

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) on Tuesday stayed the scheduled execution ofMarcellus Williams, just hours before the death-row inmate was set to be put to death for the 1998 killing of a former newspaper reporter.

Williamss looming lethal injection prompted scrutiny and a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court from his attorneys, who pointed to new DNA evidence in arguing that Missouri may have been on the verge of executingthe wrong person.

Greitens said he would appoint a board to look into the new DNA evidence and other factors before issuing a report about whether or not Williams should be granted clemency.

A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment, Greitens said in a statement. To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt.

[Earlier this year, Arkansas executed four inmates in eight days]

Williams, 48, was convicted in 2001 of brutally killing Felicia Lisha Gayle, who had been a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gayle was in her home when she was stabbed 43 times with a butcher knife, according to court records.

Williams was scheduled to be executed in 2015 for the high-profile killing, but the state Supreme Court stayed his lethal injection, allowing him time to obtain the new DNA testing.

Attorneys for Williams have arguedhe is innocent, pointing to DNA tests they say producedconclusive scientific evidence that another man committed this crime. They say this evidence shows that DNA belonging to someone else was found on the murder weapon, exonerating Williams.

Theyre never going to ever confront an actual innocence cause more persuading than this involving exonerating DNA evidence, said Kent Gipson, one of Williamss attorneys. Ive seen a lot of miscarriages of justice, but this one would take the cake.

State officials, though, said they still believed Williams is guilty because ofother compelling non-DNA evidence.

[Johnson & Johnson says its drug shouldnt be used in executions]

In court filings, the office of Joshua D. Hawley, Missouris attorney general, listed some of these other factors, describing two people a man who served time with Williams and Williamss girlfriend who both told police that he confessed to the killing. Williams had also sold a laptop stolen from Gayles home, Hawleys office wrote in the filings, and items belonging to Gayle were found in a car Williams drove the day she was killed.

Based on the other, non-DNA, evidence in this case, our office is confident in Marcellus Williams guilt and plans to move forward, Loree Anne Paradise, Hawleys deputy chief of staff, wrote in an email Tuesday.

After Williamss execution was stayed, Paradise said her office was still confident in what the jury determined in 2001.

We remain confident in the judgment of the jury and the many courts that have carefully reviewed Mr. Williams case over sixteen years, she wrote Tuesday afternoon. We applaud the work of the numerous law enforcement officers who have dedicated their time and effort to pursuing justice in this case.

Attorneys for Williams and state officials had both made their arguments to Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who is assigned cases from the federal circuit covering Missouri. Neither Gorsuch nor the full court had publicly weighed in before Greitens halted the scheduled execution.

[Pfizer tightens restrictions to keep drugs from being used in executions]

Alittle more than four hours before Williams was set to be executed,Greitens signed an executive orderhalting the lethal injection. Greitens alsoappointed a board of inquiry to further consider Williamss clemency request and issue a report about whether he should be executed or have his sentence commuted.

In his statement,Greitens said he was appointing the board in light of new information.According to Greitenss executive order, the board will consider newly discovered DNA evidence as well as any other relevant evidence not available to the jury.

The controversy surrounding Williamss scheduled lethal injection had drawn unusual attention to what would be a relatively rare execution in the United States, where the death penalty has been declining for years.

There have been 16 people executed so far this year in the United States, one of them in Missouri, which is among a handful of states still regularly executing inmates. Last year, there were 20 executions in the United States, the fewest in 25 years. That number is expected to increase slightly this year, but 2017 will still see one of the lowest annual number of executions than most years since 1990.

[Why the U.S. could see more executions this year]

Death sentences have become less common nationwide, dropping from 315 such sentences in 1996 to 31 last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based group that tracks capital punishment. Public support for the death penalty has also fallen over the same period. In a Pew Research Center survey last year, American support for capital punishment fell below 50 percent for the first time since Richard Nixon was president. A Gallup poll, also conducted last year, found support remained at 60 percent. In both cases, the numbers represented a sharp drop from the mid-1990s, when 4 in 5 Americans backed the death penalty.

While some states have abandoned capital punishment or been unable to carry out executions amid an ongoing drug shortage, Missouri has been an outlier. Missouri is one of three states, along with Texas and Georgia, to execute at least one inmate each year since 2013.

In 2015, when Missouri last intended to execute Williams, the states Supreme Court stayed the lethal injection. A laboratory tested evidence from the scene of Gayles killing and a DNA expert determined that Williams could not have contributed to the DNA found on the knife that killed the former reporter, Williamss attorneys said.Last week, theMissouri Supreme Courtrejected a request to stay Williamss execution without explanation.

Missouri officials had argued in court that in order to exonerate Williams, DNA evidence would have to explain how Williams ended up with the victims property, and why two witnesses independently said he confessed to them, or at least provide a viable alternate suspect. They also said that just showing unknown DNA on the knife handle does not alone prove Williamss innocence.

The item was a kitchen knife with both male and female DNA on the handle, Hawleys office wrote in a filing to the Supreme Court. It is reasonable to assume people not involved in the murder handled the knife in the kitchen. And there is no reason to believe Williams would not have worn gloves during a burglary and murder, as he wore a jacket to conceal his bloody shirt after he left the murder scene.

[Ohio executes Ronald Phillips, resuming lethal injections after three-year break]

Gipson argued that the case against Williams was always weak, consisting primarily of the statements of two jailhouse informants who claimed Williams had confessed to the crime. Gipson also said that bloody footprints at the scene did not match Williamss shoe size and added that bloody fingerprints were never tested or compared to Williamss fingerprints because they were lost by police.

The DNA testing, which Williamss attorneys said was enabled by advances in technology, formed the main argument they made in appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A DNA profile was developed from the handle of the knife that was found in the victims body and that does not match the DNA of Marcellus, Gipson said Tuesday, adding that three separate experts have concluded that the DNA left on the knife and at the scene was a match for another man and not Williams. Its clear that the DNA on the knife is the DNA of the killer. Each expert has concluded that you can scientifically exclude Marcellus as the contributor of the DNA on the knife.

Civil rights groups also weighed in on the case, both due to Williamss claims ofinnocence as well as racial undertones in the prosecution of a black man charged with killing a white woman.

The Supreme Court has emphasized over and over that because death is a unique punishment there is need for heightened reliability before its imposed, said Sam Spital, director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is not directly involved in Williamss case. One of the really significant questions raised by Mr. Williamss case is, what does it mean when you have issues of innocence?

Like Williamss attorneys, Spital noted the lack of forensic evidence linking Williams to the crime as well as the new DNA evidence. Spital also pointed to another concern, echoing attorneys for Williams, who described the case as racially charged. Spital said six of the seven potential black jurors in the case were struck from the jury pool in one case because the potential juror looked like Williams.

This execution has to be stayed so these substantial questions of innocence can be considered, in addition to some real concerns about race discrimination, Spital said before the governor had issued the stay.

This story has been updated since it was first published.

Read more:

Arkansas planned an unprecedented wave of executions because its lethal drugs were about to expire

The steady decline of Americas death rows

An Arkansas death row inmate took their fathers life. Heres why they dont want the killer executed.

Drug companies take aim at executions and demand their drugs back

Ohios youngest death row inmate never touched the murder weapon. Why was he sentenced to death?

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Missouri governor stays execution of Marcellus Williams, says officials will probe DNA evidence in the case – Washington Post

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Danish police: DNA from dismembered body matches missing journalist – CNN

Posted: at 3:40 am

At a press conference, chief investigator Jens Mller Jensen said police had linked the victim to the torso with DNA obtained from her toothbrush and hairbrush. Blood found on the submarine was also a match for Wall, he said.

Mller Jensen said the body had apparently been punctured to let the air out before sinking it, and it was weighted down in a presumed attempt to prevent it floating.

Wall, 30, had boarded a 17-meter, privately built submarine on August 10 for a story she was writing about its inventor, Peter Madsen.

She was last seen on that day in an image that allegedly showed her standing with Madsen in the tower of the submarine in Copenhagen Harbor.

A passing cyclist found the torso Monday afternoon on the southwest side of Amager island near the Danish capital.

Police had earlier said the body appeared to have been deliberately dismembered.

“Naturally, the DNA match is a relatively large breakthrough in the investigation which will now continue until we have built all possible information in the case,” said Mller Jensen.

Investigators and divers are carrying out an extensive search Wednesday for “remaining body parts and clothing” in coastal areas of Amager island, he said.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Wall’s mother, Ingrid Wall, spoke of the family’s “immense grief and shock” on learning that the journalist’s remains had been found, and said many questions remained unanswered.

She recalled the impact of her daughter’s disappearance on her family, friends and colleagues around the world, as well as the powerful stories she had told from remote corners of the planet.

“Following Kim’s disappearance, we have received countless messages about how loved and appreciated she was — as a human being, as a friend and as a journalist. It’s a true testament to the impact she’s had on others,” she said.

“She gave a voice to weak, vulnerable and marginalized people. It’s a voice this world needed for years to come, but that has now been silenced.”

Madsen, who has been charged with manslaughter, told a closed-door court hearing Monday that Wall had died in an accident and was buried at sea in an “unspecified place” in Kge Bay, according to a statement.

Madsen, 46, originally claimed he had dropped her off on land on the night of August 10, according to a police statement.

But police later said Madsen had provided them with a “different explanation.”

The inventor was charged with manslaughter on August 11 and ordered to be held in custody for 24 days.

His lawyer Betina Hald Engmark told Denmark’s TV2 at the time that her client “accepts the arrest but still denies the crime.”

According to CNN’s Swedish affiliate Expressen, the submarine — which had sunk — was found at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, August 11, 15 hours after it had departed Copenhagen.

Police said there was no trace of Wall when the submarine was found by emergency services.

Expressen reporter Federico Moreno, speaking to CNN from Amager island near where the torso was found, said the search effort appeared to have intensified since Tuesday.

He said he could see about 10 divers searching the waters off the island, more than double the number he’d seen a day earlier. The spot where the torso was found is also not far from the location where the submarine sank, he said.

Danes with whom Moreno has spoken about the case say the circumstances are very strange and that they have questions about Madsen’s changing accounts of what happened, he said.

Moreno said that Madsen’s lawyer, Hald Engmark, had sent him a text message after Wednesday’s police press briefing to say that Madsen maintained his innocence.

Madsen was already famous in Denmark before his name hit the headlines in relation to this case, Moreno said. He had launched his submarine, the UC3 Nautilus, in 2008 with the help of crowdfunding.

Wall wasn’t a household name in Sweden, in part because she mostly wrote for English-language publications, Moreno said, but she was an experienced reporter and her family is well known in media circles.

Wall, a graduate of Columbia University and London School of Economics, was based between Beijing and New York. Her work appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian and TIME among others.

Her father was a photojournalist for Expressen for many years and her brother also works as a photojournalist for Swedish publications, Moreno said.

CNN’s James Masters, Jim Stenman, Sophia Chalmer, Hilary McGann and Henrik Pettersson contributed to this report.

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Danish police: DNA from dismembered body matches missing journalist – CNN

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Missouri governor stays execution of convicted killer amid new DNA evidence – CNN

Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:31 pm

“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” Greitens said in a statement. “To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt. In light of new information, I am appointing a Board of Inquiry in this case.”

His attorneys said that DNA evidence unavailable during his 2001 trial proved his innocence.

However, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office had argued the execution should be carried out, saying the DNA evidence doesn’t overcome non-DNA evidence that connects the inmate to the crime.

In a statement, Greitens announced the creation of a new five-person Board of Inquiry. The board, which will have subpoena power, will review evidence, in addition to newly discovered evidence, and offer a recommendation to the governor, who will determine whether Williams is granted clemency.

A spokesman for the governor said the stay will remain in place as long it’s necessary for the case’s review and for the governor to make a final decision.

Greitens’ decision Tuesday was praised by the Innocence Project, which assisted Williams’ lawyers in asking the governor to convene the board.

“We are relieved and grateful that Gov. Greitens halted Missouri’s rush to execution and appointed a Board of Inquiry to hear the new DNA and other evidence supporting Mr. Williams’ innocence,” said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project.

“While many Americans hold different views on the death penalty, there is an overwhelming consensus that those sentenced to death should be given due process and a full hearing on all their claims before an execution, and the governor’s action honors that principle.”

The Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, DC nonprofit,, said the governor’s decision to stay Williams’ execution is “an important step in ensuring that Missouri does not execute an innocent man.”

Defense attorney Larry Komp that he was “ecstatic” upon hearing about the stay, and added that he thought Williams felt similarly.

“He was thoughtful and I believe happy, and asked where do we go from here,” Komp said. “His reaction was the same as mine: Happy for 30 seconds and then ‘Alright, let’s get to work.'”

In a statement, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch said he is “confident that any Board and the Governor, after a full review of all evidence and information, will reach the same conclusion” that the jury and several courts have reached over the past 20 years.

Williams was convicted in the death of Felicia Gayle, 42, a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper who was stabbed 43 times inside her home in August 1998.

The newly acquired evidence shows Williams’ DNA was not found on the murder weapon, Williams’ lawyers say, though DNA from another male was found.

That evidence was not available when Williams went to trial in 2001, court documents say. Williams maintains his innocence and says he was convicted on the testimony of individuals who were, themselves, convicted felons.

Forensic DNA expert and biologist Greg Hampikian, who was hired by defense lawyers, told CNN on Monday that “when you’re stabbing, DNA transfers because of restriction and force. If you’re stabbing anyone, you have a good chance of transferring your DNA because of that force.”

The analysis of DNA on the knife “isn’t enough to incriminate someone, but it is enough to exclude somebody,” he said. “It’s like finding a Social Security card with some blurred numbers. There’s still enough there to at least exclude someone.”

Hair samples found at the crime scene don’t match Williams’ DNA, Hampikian said. A footprint found at the scene also does not match the defendant’s shoes, his lawyers said.

But the state attorney general’s office, in addressing the new DNA evidence in court documents filed in federal court last week in opposition to a stay of execution, offered a possible explanation of why none of Williams’ DNA was found on the knife.

The new DNA evidence “does not come close to showing Williams is actually innocent,” the documents state. “It would be unsurprising if Williams, who wore a coat from the crime scene to cover his bloody shirt, wore gloves when he committed the burglary and the murder,” the documents say.

The office said Williams’ guilt was proven without DNA evidence.

“Based on the other, non-DNA, evidence in this case, our office is confident in Marcellus Williams’ guilt,” said Loree Anne Paradise, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Josh Hawley.

The non-DNA evidence includes a laptop belonging to the victim’s husband, which Williams sold and police recovered, and some of the victim’s personal items, which police found in the trunk of the car Williams drove, according to court documents.

Williams got picked up about three weeks after Gayle was killed on unrelated charges. His cellmate from that time at a local jail, Henry Cole, and Laura Asaro, Williams’ girlfriend, testified for the state, saying Williams told them separately that he committed the murder, according to the documents filed by the state attorney general.

Williams’ defense filed a brief Monday night with Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. The governor’s stay means that the justices won’t act on the issue for now.

The case has drawn high-profile advocates. Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun who fights the death penalty and was featured in the movie “Dead Man Walking,” is involved in the case. Amnesty International is urging Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, to grant clemency.

“It’s gaining public attention,” Amnesty International researcher Rob Freer said of the case. “I think there is a heightened sensitivity that it is now proven that the capital justice system” has errors, he said.

Samuel Spital, the director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, said the lack of physical evidence linking Williams to the murder is “not the only disturbing aspect” of the case.

The trial prosecutor was allowed to preemptively strike six out of seven prospective black jurors, Spital told CNN, noting that Williams is black and Gayle was white.

“The prosecutor offered as a race ‘neutral’ explanation for one of the strikes that the black juror looked like Mr. Williams and that the juror worked for the Post Office, even though the same prosecutor raised no objection to a white juror who worked for the Post Office,” Spital said. “Whatever one’s views of capital punishment, it is both morally and constitutionally intolerable for a death sentence to be imposed if the defendant is innocent or if the verdict is marred by racial discrimination.”

The execution was to be carried out at the prison in Bonne Terre.

“Given the tenets of his religion (Islam) that he is very devout about, he believes it will be Allah’s will and he is at peace with that,” attorney Komp said before Greitens’ decision. “Whatever will be will be. It’s astounding.”

Williams’ son, Marcellus Williams II, said Monday that his father is not one to show pain.

“He’s at peace. I think tomorrow he’s going to be murdered. He (is) an innocent man, and that’s not right,” the younger Williams told CNN.

Williams II says he’s never doubted his father’s innocence and credited him with being a strong influence in his life.

“Someone murdered that woman, but it wasn’t my father,” he said. “I wish they would find the right suspect and charge them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Gayle’s widower, Dan Picus, is declining interviews, according to his wife.

She “was a kind and gentle woman who went out of her way to do nice things for people. She’d left the newspaper in 1992 to do full-time volunteer work.”

The editorial said the paper “opposes capital punishment under any and all circumstances, believing its administration is always arbitrary and always irrevocable. It has no deterrent value. If the state must execute, there must be no room for doubt.”

CNN’s Jason Kravarik, Scott McLean and Ariane De Vogue contributed to this report.

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Missouri governor stays execution of convicted killer amid new DNA evidence – CNN

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Intelligence and the DNA Revolution – Scientific American

Posted: at 11:31 pm

More than 60 years ago, Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the double-helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acidbetter known as DNA. Today, for the cost of a Netflix subscription, you can have your DNA sequenced to learn about your ancestry and proclivities. Yet, while it is an irrefutable fact that the transmission of DNA from parents to offspring is the biological basis for heredity, we still know relatively little about the specific genes that make us who we are.

That is changing rapidly through genome-wide association studiesGWAS, for short. These studies search for differences in peoples genetic makeuptheir genotypesthat correlate with differences in their observable traitstheir phenotypes. In a GWAS recently published in Nature Genetics, a team of scientists from around the world analyzed the DNA sequences of 78,308 people for correlations with general intelligence, as measured by IQ tests.

The major goal of the study was to identify single nucleotide polymorphismsor SNPsthat correlate significantly with intelligence test scores. Found in most cells throughout the body, DNA is made up of four molecules called nucleotides, referred to by their organic bases: cytosine (C), thymine (T), adenine (A), and guanine (G). Within a cell, DNA is organized into structures called chromosomes. Humans normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes, with one in each pair inherited from each parent.

A SNP (or snip) is a nucleotide at a particular chromosomal region that can differ across people. For example, one person might have the nucleotide triplet TAC whereas another person might have TCC, and this variation may contribute to differences between the people in a trait such as intelligence. Genes consist of much longer nucleotide sequences and act as instructions for making proteinsbasic building blocks of life.

Of the over 12 million SNPs analyzed, 336 correlated significantly with intelligence, implicating 22 different genes. One of the genes is involved in regulating the growth of neurons; another is associated with intellectual disability and cerebral malformation. Together, the SNPs accounted for about 5% of the differences across people in intelligencea nearly two-fold increase over the last GWAS on intelligence. Examining larger patterns of SNPs, the researchers discovered an additional 30 genes related to intelligence.

As a check on the replicability of their results, the scientists then tested for correlations between the 336 SNPs and level of educationa variable known to be strongly correlated with intelligencein an independent sample of nearly 200,000 people who had previously undergone DNA testing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the SNPs correlated in the same direction with education as they did with intelligence. This finding helps allay concerns that the SNPs associated with intelligence were false positivesin other words, due to chance. More substantively, the finding adds to the case that some of the same processes underlie intelligence and learning. The authors concluded that the results provide starting points for understanding the molecular neurobiological mechanisms underlying intelligence, one of the most investigated traits in humans.

As the cognitive neuroscientist Richard Haier discusses in his excellent new book The Neuroscience of Intelligence, other intelligence research is combining molecular genetic analyses and neuroimaging. In one study, using a sample of 1,583 adolescents, researchers discovered a SNP implicated in synaptic plasticity that was significantly related to both intelligence test scores and to cortical thickness, as measured by magnetic resonance imaging. In animal research, other researchers are using chemogenetic techniques to turn on and off neurons that may be important for intelligence.

Of course, intelligence is not solely the product of DNAand no scientist studying intelligence thinks otherwise. The environment has a major impact on the development of intelligence, or any other psychological trait. All the same, knowledge gained from molecular genetic research may one day be used to identify children at risk for developing serious intellectual deficits, and for whom certain types of interventions early in life may reduce that risk. This research is also providing a scientific foundation for thinking about how brain functioning might be manipulated to enhance intelligence.

The big picture to emerge from research on the neurobiological underpinnings of intelligence and other psychological traits is that the nature vs. nurture debate is, once and for all, over. We are a product of both our genetic makeup and our environments, and the complex interplay between the two. Research aimed at better understanding this interplay will give scientists a richer understanding of both the similarities and differences in our psychological makeup.

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Intelligence and the DNA Revolution – Scientific American

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White Supremacists Aren’t Thrilled With DNA Testing Results – GOOD Magazine

Posted: at 11:31 pm

Image via Elvert Barnes/Flickr.

When white supremacist Craig Cobb took a DNA test on The Trisha Goddard Show in 2013 and found out he was 14% sub-Saharan African, he refused to accept the results, preferring instead to call the facts statistical noise. Cobb is not uncommon in his reaction to DNA evidence. Like Cobb, whotried to make one town in North Dakota exclusively white, other white supremacists have tested their DNA in an attempt to prove purely European roots, only to be sorely disappointed.

In light of the dual rise of white supremacy and accessible genetic testing, sociologists Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan decided to study the connection between the two. They siftedthrough millions of forum posts on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, where users post their genetic profile and discuss the results. Earlier this August, Panofsky and Donovan shared their conclusions with fellow sociologists at a conference in Montreal. To the surprise of many, they found that when challenged with non-white backgrounds, white supremacists overwhelmingly challenge the results and manipulate their ancestral stories instead of accepting genetic evidence.

Overall, just a third of the forum participants writing about genetic tests were happy with their results. The rest, however, werent too jazzed with what they found. But instead of banning them from the online group, other members encouraged them to challenge their results or dismiss them entirely. While some argued it only matters if youre committed to their racist cause, others pegged the genetic tests as Jewish conspiracies, STAT News reports. They also discovered the truly warped argument circulating in these forums that you dont need non-white people to have a diverse society because white people are diverse enough on their own.

While there are some bones to pick with genetic testing services, which can be lightly manipulated based on what information (or lack thereof) you give them, for the most part this study shows how adept white supremacists are at distorting reality. To that end, has stated:To be clear, we are against any use of our product in an attempt to promote divisiveness or justify twisted ideologies. People looking to use our services to prove they are ethnically pure are going to be deeply disappointed. We encourage them to take their business elsewhere.

Share image via Elvert Barnes/Flickr.

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White Supremacists Aren’t Thrilled With DNA Testing Results – GOOD Magazine

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How white supremacists respond when their DNA says they’re not ‘white’ – PBS NewsHour

Posted: August 20, 2017 at 5:50 pm

A white supremacist wears a shirt with the slogan European Brotherhood at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Whether youre a white supremacist, a white nationalist or a member of the alt-right, much of your ideology centers around a simple principle: being white. The creation of a white ethnostate, populated and controlled by pure descendants of white Europeans, ranks high on your priority list.

Yet, when confronted with genetic evidence suggesting someone isnt pure blood, as white supremacists put it, they do not cast the person out of online communities. They bargain.

A new study from UCLA found when genetic ancestry tests like 23andMe spot mixed ancestry among white supremacists, most respond in three ways to discount the results and keep members with impure genealogy in their clan. Their reactions range from challenging the basic math behind the tests to accusing Jewish conspirators of sabotage.

Some argued their family history was all the proof they needed. Or they looked in the mirror and clung to the notion that race and ethnicity are directly visible, which is false.

But the real takeaway centers on an new, nuanced pattern within white supremacist groups to redefine and solidify their ranks through genetic ancestry testing, said Aaron Panofsky, a UCLA sociologist who co-led the study presented Monday at the American Sociological Associations 112th annual meeting in Montreal.

Once they start to see that a lot of members of their community are not going to fit the all-white criteria, they start to say, Well, do we have to think about what percentage [of white European genealogy] could define membership? said Aaron Panofsky, a UCLA sociologist who co-led the study presented Monday at the American Sociological Associations 112th annual meeting in Montreal.

And this co-opting of science raises an important reminder: The best way to counter white supremacists may not be to fight their alternative facts with logical ones, according to people who rehabilitate far-right extremists.

To catalog white supremacists reactions to genetic ancestry results, this study logged onto the website Stormfront. Launched in 1995, Stormfront was an original forum of white supremacy views on the internet. The website resembles a Reddit-style social network, filled with chat forums and users posting under anonymous nicknames. By housing nearly one million archived threads and over twelve million posts by 325,000 or more members, Stormfront serves as a living history of the white nationalist movement.

Over the course of two years, Panofsky and fellow UCLA sociologist Joan Donovan combed through this online community and found 153 posts where users volunteered the results of genetic ancestry tests. They then read through the subsequent discussion threads 2,341 posts wherein the community faced their collective identities.

No surprise, but white supremacists celebrate the test results that suggest full European ancestry. One example:

67% British isles 18% Balkan 15% Scandinavian 100% white! HURRAY!

On the flip side, Panofsky and Donovan found that bad news was rarely met with expulsion from the group.

So sometimes, someone says Yeah, this makes you not white. Go kill yourself, Panofsky said. Much more of the responses are what we call repair responses where theyre saying, OK this is bad news. Lets think about how you should interpret this news to make it to make it right.

These repair responses fell into two categories.

Reject! One coping mechanism involved the outright rejection of genetic tests validity. Some argued their family history was all the proof they needed. Or they looked in the mirror and clung to the notion that race and ethnicity are directly visible, which is false, said University of Chicago population geneticist John Novembre told NewsHour.

Genetically, the idea of white European as a single homogenous group does not hold up.

Though the genetics of whiteness are not completely understood, the gene variants known to influence skin color are more diluted across the globe than any random spot in the human genome. That is to say, humans appear, based on our skin pigmentation, to be much more different from each other, than we actually are on a genomic level, Novembre said.

Others accused the ancestry companies of being run and manipulated by Jews, in an attempt to thwart white nationalism, but even other Stormfront users pointed out the inaccuracy of this idea.

Reinterpret The biggest proportion of responses 1,260 posts tried to rationalize the result by offering an educational or scientific explanation for the genetic ancestry results. Many in the online community played a numbers game. If a genetic ancestry test stated someone was 95 percent white European, they would merely count the remaining 5 percent as a statistical error.

Many adapted this line of thinking to make exceptions for those with mixed ancestry. Nearly 500 posts made appeals by misapplying theories of genetics or by saying whiteness is a culture, not just biology an apparent contradiction to the mission of forming a pure ethnostate . This trend led some white supremacists to debate the boundaries of their ethnostate, Panofsky said.

They start to think about the genetic signs and markers of white nationalism that might be useful for our community, Panofsky said. [They say] maybe there are going to be lots of different white nations, each with slightly different rules for nationalism? Or an overlapping set of nations, that are genetically defined in their own ways?

But these arguments are moot, because these genetic ancestry boundaries are inherently built on shaky ground.

If it seems white supremacists are making arbitrary decisions about their ancestry tests, its hard to blame them. Direct-to-consumer ancestry testing is a slippery, secretive industry, built largely upon arbitrary scientific definitions.

Its black box because its corporate, said Jonathan Marks, biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The way these answers are generated depends strongly on the sampling, the laboratory work that you do and the algorithm that you use to analyze the information. All of this stuff is intellectual property. We cant really evaluate it.

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS

Genetic ancestry companies assess a persons geographic heritage by analyzing DNA markers in their mitochondrial DNA (for maternal history) or their Y chromosome (for paternal history). These two sources of DNA remain unchanged from parent to child to grandchild, aside from a relatively small number of mutations that occur naturally during life. These mutations can serve as branch points in the trees of human ancestry, Panofsky and Donovan wrote, and as DNA markers specific to different regions around the world.

When genetic anthropologists examine the full scope of humans, they find that historical patterns in DNA markers make the case that everyone in the world came from a common ancestor who was born in east Africa within the last 100,000 to 200,000 years. Plus, groups intermingled so much over the course of history that genetic diversity is a continuum both within American and Europe, through to Asia and Africa, Novembre of the University of Chicago said.

WATCH: Years after transatlantic slavery, DNA tests give clarity

Genetically, the idea of white European as a single homogenous group does not hold up. The classic geographic boundaries of the Mediterranean, Caucasus, and Urals that have shaped human movement and contact are all permeable barriers, Novembre told NewsHour. Most of the genetic variants you or I carry, we share with other people all across the globeIf you are in some ethnic group, there are not single genetic variants that you definitely have and everyone outside the group does not.

Commercial ancestry companies know these truths, but bend them to draw arbitrary conclusions about peoples ancestry, researchers say. They compare DNA from a customer to the genomes of people or reference groups whose ancestries they claim to already know.

23andMe, for instance, uses reference dataset that include genomes from 10,418 people who were carefully chosen to reflect populations that existed before transcontinental travel and migration were common (at least 500 years ago). To build these geographic groups, they select individuals who say all four of their grandparents were born in the same country, and then remove outliers whose DNA markers do not match well within the group.

These choices willfully bias the genetic definitions for both geography and time. They claim that a relatively small group of modern people can reveal the past makeup of Europe, Africa and Asia and the ancestral histories for millions of customers. But their reference groups skew toward the present and overpromise on the details of where people came from.

While 23andMe denounces the use of their services to justify hateful ideologies, they do not actively ban known white supremacists from their DNA testing.

A study by 23andMe reported that with their definition of European ancestry, there is an average of 98.6 percent European ancestry among self-reported European-Americans. But given all Ive said we should digest this with caution, Novembre said. An individual with 100 percent European ancestry tests is simply someone who looks very much like the European reference samples being used.

Though ancestry companies claim their tests can pinpoint someone within 100 miles of their European ancestral home, thats not always the case. Marks offered the recent example of three blond triplets who took an ancestry test for the TV show The Doctors. The test said the triplets were 99 percent European. But one sister had more English and Irish ancestry, while another had more French and German. Did we mention they are identical triplets?

That shows you just how much slop there is in these kinds of of ancestry estimates, Marks said.

Marks described commercial ancestry testing as recreational science because its proprietary nature lacks public, academic oversight, but uses scientific practices to validate stereotypical notions of race and ethnicity.

While 23andMe denounces the use of their services to justify hateful ideologies, they do not actively ban known white supremacists from their DNA testing, BuzzFeed reported.

But white supremacists arent the only ones to buy into these wayward notions when genetic ancestry tests support their self-prescribed identities or reject the science when things dont pan out as expected. African-Americans do it too, as Columbia University sociologist Alondra Nelson found in 2008.

Consumers have what I call genealogical aspiration, Nelson told NewsHour. They often make choices among dozens of companies based on the kind of information theyre seeking. If youre interested in finding whether or not youre a member of the small group that has, for example, some trace of Neanderthal DNA, then youre going to go to a company that focuses on that.

She said Panofsky and Donovans study shows that white nationalists will engage in a process of psychic and symbolic negotiation when genetic ancestry results fail to satisfy their impossible idea for racial purity.

But Panofsky, who doesnt support or sympathize with white nationalists, believes these negotiations are not a reason to dismiss white nationalists as ignorant and stupid.

I think that is actually a dangerous view, Panofsky said. Our study reveals that these white nationalists are often engaging with genetic information in extraordinarily sophisticated ways.

Many white supremacists are dealing with toxic shame, a perpetual subconscious belief system where their sense of identity is negative.

White supremacists are trying to deal with the issue of identity as an intellectual problem, said Tony McAleer, the co-founder and board chair of Life After Hate, a counseling organization that rehabs white supremacists. But he said the rehab of white nationalist views doesnt start with challenging their mental gymnastics with data.

We need to deal with the emotional drivers first, McAleer said. University of Maryland did a study of violent extremists and what they found was the number one correlated factor with someone joining a violent extremist group was childhood trauma.

But McAleer continued that the emotional trauma fueling white supremacy extends past physical and sexual abuse. Many white supremacists are dealing with toxic shame, a perpetual subconscious belief system where their sense of identity is negative.

The person feels at a subconscious level theyre not good enough, McAleer said. One way to react to that is to perpetually spend all of your efforts to prove to the world that you are a winner.

So, Life After Hates antidote to this shame is compassion and empathy, he said. Rather than toss statistics about how Muslims arent flooding the country and do not lead to spikes in crime, they will take a white supremacist to an Islamic center and have them sit down and spend time there.

A personal connection is a much more powerful way to change the dynamics within a person, than it is to re-educate the dataset thats in their head, McAleer said.

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I sent in my DNA to get a personalized diet plan. What I discovered disturbs me. – Chicago Tribune

Posted: at 5:50 pm

August 18 is National Ice Cream Pie Day. (It’s also the third week of National Crayon Collection Month, but who’s counting?) You know whose arteries ice cream pie is good for? No one. Plain and simple. But Habit, one of the latest disrupters in the food tech sector, suggests we rethink the very notion of foods that are good for everyone or bad for everyone. It’s part of a movement toward what is called personalized nutrition.

Habit, based in the San Francisco Bay area, tests for biomarkers and genetic variants using samples you provide, then generates a personalized report about how your body responds to food. It’s your unique “nutrition blueprint.” Then the company pairs you with a nutrition coach and offers you custom-made meals, containing your ideal ratio of carbs, fats and protein, delivered to your home. All in the name of sending you on the path to a “new you.”

I had to see for myself. So I endured the home test and shipped off my blood and DNA samples. (Gulp.) Then the company’s chief executive walked me through the results of my newfound eater identity, and I observed how the diagnosis began to affect my relationship with food. Here’s what happened and what it could mean for the future of eating in America.

The Habit home kit is not for the faint of heart. After fasting for 10 hours, you answer lots of deeply personal questions, scrub DNA samples from your cheeks and puncture your fingertips with a self-pricking button (technical term: “lancet”). This sounds rough, but my lowest moment is actually chugging their special Habit Challenge Shake. It clocks in at 950 calories, 75 grams of sugar and 130 percent of daily saturated fat intake. It has a taste and smell I can only liken to Kahla. It makes me feel god-awful while drinking it nose pinched, pinkie out, face scrunched and even worse afterward. It was bad enough I had sacrificed my Saturday morning frittata ritual.

By the third blood sample, my dining table looks like a crime scene. I’ve got bandages on two fingers, mini disinfectant pads strewn around, and cherry red blood dripping down my forearm. I’m angling my elbow like a helicopter hovering over the little blood collection card, just trying to fill the darn box one last time so I can move on with my day. Finally, I pack it up and mail it all off in a rather alarming biohazard bag. The whole ordeal takes about three hours and costs $309.

I’m told I’ll receive my results in a few weeks. While I wait, I wander back to the Habit website and take a closer look at those pages and pages of fine print. I start to have second thoughts at sentences like, “You may experience stress, anxiety, or emotional or physical discomfort when you learn about health problems or potential health problems.”

Then there’s this: “Recommendations regarding diet provided to you may or may not be beneficial to you and may cause or exacerbate certain medical problems.”

Say what now?

Thankfully, when the results come in, I get labeled a “Range Seeker.” In official Habit-speak, it means “you can be flexible with your macronutrient intake and thrive on a range of foods.” Well, that’s a relief.

There are seven Habit types, each with dozens of more specific sub-variations, varying from “Slow Seeker” (best suited for foods rich in fiber and carbs that are absorbed slowly) to “Fat Seeker” (“fat is a valuable fuel source for you”). Along with receiving your tribal designation, you’re assigned a personalized eating plan, depicting your ideal plate, suggested nutrient goals and daily calorie target.

I’d be lying if I said the results haven’t been affecting my food choices, or at least the way I feel about my food choices. For instance, since being told I have a genetic risk variant associated with slow production of omega-3s, I have been seeking salmon like a grizzly bear. Apparently, I’m also genetically predisposed to caffeine sensitivity. Many a morning, this news has me sitting at my desk thinking I must be tripping out on my cup of joe despite the fact that I have consumed the exact same amount of coffee every day of my adult life.

On the face of it, personalized nutrition makes sense. Why wouldn’t I want to understand the unique dietary yearnings and land mines of my own DNA? Many people seem to feel that the existing national dietary guidance of one-size-fits-all has failed them. They’re sick, and they’re confused about what to buy and what to order.

But in reducing food to individualized nutrient optimization equating food with fuel, really what are we sacrificing? What are the implications for our food culture and the future of dining? “Oh, gosh, I’d love to go out for sushi with you, but I have to scurry home to my prearranged ‘Range Seeker’ box in the fridge.”

Neil Grimmer, Habit’s founder and chief executive, recognizes that food is social. He tells me that it “knots us together culturally,” so Habit is in the process of facilitating online communities for people with the same Habit type. Through a private Facebook page, they can share tips and the like. It’s better than going it alone, I guess, but a far cry from actually sharing a meal.

Remember the $300 you put down for the home test? It includes a coaching session, so a nutritionist helps you put all your information into practice. During my session, Jae Berman, a registered dietitian nutritionist and head coach of Habit, is a great help. But things don’t look so rosy when I ask her how I’m supposed to integrate Habit into regular life.

“The family conversation has been one of the most common questions we have gotten,” she says. “It doesn’t occur to me as a problem because I just want people to take ownership of their story … have the empowerment to say, ‘This is what my plate looks like; that’s what your plate needs to look like,’ and move on.” Even, she says, if that means everyone at the table eating something different. Have you ever tried being the short-order cook in that scenario? It all but requires outsourcing the meal making.

Imagine, Berman says, a mom who’s stressed out, with kids running around, “a husband who is a rail,” all the while she has no time for herself, is struggling with her weight, and trying to figure out what on earth to cook for dinner. “Most people don’t want to talk about uncomfortable things,” Berman says. “But let your kids eat mac and cheese, let your husband do what he needs, and let you have this plate for your dinner. You don’t need to do anything it’s going to show up at your door.”

This desire to customize our food experiences stems from the uniquely American trait of individualism. Often subconscious, it’s a desire to be exceptional, distinct from those around us, as opposed to being part of a larger collective. By contrast, many other cultures around the world are characterized by interdependence. It turns out, individualism shapes our eating habits in stunning ways, from the epidemic of solo dining to customization as a firmly expected attribute of eating out.

Habit is the latest example of a new technology enabling that innate premium on personalization, and over time, these tools are pulling us further and further from the table. Think smartphones making us feel less alone while eating alone, and mobile ordering apps allowing us to tailor our meal delivery times and our restaurant orders with greater precision. With roughly half of all eating occasions now taking place when we’re by ourselves, we’re getting less and less practiced at eating with others.

This reality has major implications for our food culture, and for the rising rates of social isolation in the United States. You know what the single greatest predictor of happiness is? Social connectedness. And guess what: It’s one of the greatest predictors of longevity, too.

Of course I want people to eat food that’s right for them. But we also have to ask ourselves: Which is really going to make us live longer, and live better? The ability to pay more granular attention to our triglyceride levels, or the more holistic benefits of eating with family and friends?

My grandmother turned 100 this year. Between the birthday parties and the bridge club, her standing dinner dates and the three times a day she picks up her neighbors in their retirement home hallway to take their walkers down to the dining hall, a thriving social life has been Alma’s secret to a long life. Whether I’m chomping on my salad, face glued to my iPhone, or waving off her breakfast offer by citing the low-glycemic Kind bar I just finished off, she tells me time after time: She’d take the cake and the friendships any day.

Egan is author of “Devoured: How What We Eat Defines Who We Are” (William Morrow/HarperCollins), recently released in paperback.

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