Agilent Helps Research a Mystery Involving Abraham Lincoln

In honor of “Presidents’ Day” in the U.S., I kiddingly looked into any possible connections between Agilent and President Abraham Lincoln, who served from 1861 until 1865.  Surprisingly, I found one.

In addition to being unusually tall, Lincoln had a particularly clumsy gait.  For years, historians thought he suffered from Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes skeletal abnormalities.  However, more recent research suggests that he suffered from a neurological disease called spinocerebellar ataxia.

Ataxia, which is caused by a genetic mutation, causes gradual deterioration of the cerebellum, brain stem and spinal cord.  As it progresses, it can lead to clumsiness and loss of muscle control.

The new diagnosis remains controversial.  Historians argue against testing any of Lincoln’s surviving tissue including blood and hair samples, which are considered irreplaceable artifacts.  Lincoln has no direct descendants.  But since 1992, researchers have studied more than 300 members of his extended family.  About one-third of them have the disease.  (My wife Gail is an indirect descendant of Lincoln.)

British scientists successfully isolated the specific genetic mutation that causes “Lincoln ataxia.”  The brain protein β-III spectrin is important in the function of the cerebellum.  Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 5 results from mutations in SPTBN2, the gene that encodes β-III spectrin.

Genomics tools from Agilent used in the research include Agilent TapeStation, qPCR System, qPCR Library Quantification Kit and eArray Custom Design Tool.


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