Ozzy Osbourne’s genome has been sequenced, in hopes that scientists can figure out how the notoriously self-destructive rocker is still alive.
Although the 61-year-old Osbourne has been sober for several years, Ozzy spent most of his adulthood engaging in behavior typical of a rock star musician. He was heavily into drinking and drugs for 40 years. He broke his neck on a quad bike. He died twice in a chemically induced coma. He walked away from a tour bus accident without a scratch after it was hit by a plane. His immune system was so compromised by his lifestyle he once received a positive HIV test, until it was proved to be a false positive. Yet here he is – Ozzy is alive and well.
Recently, Ozzy became a member of an elite group of people when he had his full genome sequenced. In addition to giving Osbourne information that could help prevent diseases, it is hoped the results will provide insights into the way drugs are absorbed into the body.
“Sequencing and analyzing individuals with extreme medical histories provides the greatest potential scientific value,” said Nathan Pearson, director of research at Knome, a Massachusetts company that has mapped the singer’s genome. The first full genome was sequenced in 2003 after 13 years of work and the cost was $3 billion. Today, analyzing a genome takes several weeks and costs about $20,000.
Knome took the assembled sequence and ran it through its internal analysis pipeline, producing a richly annotated genome and a set of interesting DNA variants to select for further analysis. Pearson then flew to the UK to deliver Osbourne’s results in person, but not before he had conferred with Osbourne’s wife, Sharon, a judge on America’s Got Talent.
According to the analysis, Osbourne has about 300,000 novel variants, a figure similar to that of other newly sequenced genomes. The number of novel variants discovered per genome will fall as more people are sequenced.
Given his infamous history, researchers also analyzed a number of genes involved in drug metabolism and addiction. Knome’s director of research, Nathan Pearson, aka Dr. Nathan, embarked to England to explain the findings to Osbourne.
For the moment, the Osbourne genome offers as many questions as answers. “Ozzy carries several hundred thousand variants that have never been seen by scientists,” said Pearson, “It’s going to be a while before we get enough data as a society to understand those variants.”
“Many of the variants in his genome are about how the brain processes dopamine,” he continued. Osbourne is 2.6 times more likely to experience hallucinations while on marijuana, has an increased risk of cocaine addiction and “an increased predisposition for alcohol dependence of something like six times higher”, Pearson said. Osbourne’s genes also suggest that he is slow to metabolise coffee. “Ozzy’s kryptonite is caffeine,” a Knome rep explained. A functioning change to the singer’s TTN gene, which has been linked to the nervous system, may be connected to Osbourne’s hearing or to his tremors.
The findings best demonstrate how easy it is to create a narrative out of a genome, especially one belonging to someone with as colorful a personality as Ozzy’s.
Genome sequencing continues to allow us further understand the genetic underpinnings of human disease and the possible mechanisms behind longevity. Identifying even a fraction of the genomic features determining longevity and disease susceptibility would be a major breakthrough. With the current rapid progress in sequencing technologies, we expect that studies like these in human genetics will continue to provide meaningful information for clinical treatments against the major diseases of our time, including aging.