SAN DIEGO—The last sessions of TEDMED today offered some unusual windows into health and the individual from astronaut Scott Parazynski, author A. J. Jacobs, and Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne.
Parazynski, a NASA astronaut, physician and Everest summiteer, offered: “I feel a little bit like Forrest Gump.” He's seen the planet from above, at its highest peak and below the ocean’s surface. “But today, I'm the opening freaking act for Ozzy Osbourne.” In 2009, he was climbing Mount Everest when crippling back pain forced him to halt his ascent before the top. “On the bright side, I had an unlimited amount of ice,” said Parazynski, so he could lie down and ease his back pain on the way back down. Surgery later corrected the nerve impingement, and he reached the summit a year later.
A. J. Jacobs, author, described three years each spent with a different focus, and resulting in a book. To develop his mind, he read the encyclopedia from A to Z: “my intellectual Everest.” Next, he worked on his spirit, following the rules of the Bible. The third year, he wanted to work on his body. He said that i t takes a lot of time to be healthy. You need to spend time exercising, even chewing more thoroughly. “I am pro-chewing,” he said. He tried different workouts and diets, including calorie restriction. “ You'll live a lot longer, even if you don't want to.” He still has five months to go, but already has gained some lessons, including: eat less, move more, relax. “Be kind to your future self, like you would anyone,” he adds. He hung up a digitally aged picture of himself for inspiration.
Why is former Black Sabbath lead singer and rock star Ozzy Osbourne a healthy 61-year-old today? To find out, Cofactor Genomics, a Saint Louis–based company, sequenced Osbourne's genome, and Knome, Inc., which also helped raise money for the project, analyzed the data.
“The genome is in many ways like a great musical score,” said Nathaniel Pearson of Knome. “We're going to shed some light on the Prince of Darkness here.” On stage he opened a browser to explore Osbourne’s genome. “When we looked at Ozzy's genome, we were particularly interested in traits related to neurobiology,” said Pearson. Osbourne was recently diagnosed with a Parkinson’s-like disease and Pearson said he has an addictive personality.
Pearson says Ozzy has “interesting stuff” going on in DNA region for OPRD1, an opiod receptor. “If we look at any disease, we'll find a mix of variants that mean different things,” said Pearson. One variant found suggested Ozzy would be a very good mother. He has several nonfunctioning genes for detecting odors. Ozzy’s genome has some variants in a gene implicated in musical ability called AVPR1A.
Ozzy also proved to have some Neandertal DNA on chromosome 10, but Harvard University professor “George Church has about three times as much,” said Pearson. “I’d like to meet him,” said Sharon.
The researchers also looked at more recent ancestry via mitochondrial DNA (transmitted through female forebears). Part of Ozzy's mitochondrial tree shows he's related to Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, the gunslinger Jesse James and some victims of Pompeii volcano in Italy.
Why get your genome sequenced? Ozzy replied: “My wife,” whose genome is also being sequenced. He added, “I wanted to find where I was going to die so I could avoid going there.” Sharon said, “For Ozzy For Ozzy, I was fascinated by his chemistry, his body make up. “At the end of the world, there will be cockroaches, Ozzy and Keith Richards,” she said. Ozzy said mildly, “I do like working out and I do like eating good food.”
“It’s so fascinating,” said Sharon of genome research. “It’s going to be such a different [medical] community with this” tool of genome sequencing. Ozzy agreed. “It’s the future, you know.”