Jul 012010

I don’t really have time right now to embellish this story with my own snarky comments, but it really doesn’t need much embellishment — it’s fucking hysterical all by itself.

In a nutshell, over-the-hill fruitcake Ozzy Osbourne is paying a research lab to map his genome. The lab he’s using specializes in identifying and interpreting the genetic code of particular individuals in order to find links to disease. Usually, fat cats pay them to do this because they’ve got concerns over their health.  But in Ozzy’s case, after decades of substance abuse, he’s trying to find out why he’s still alive, not what could kill him.

It’s kind of like donating your body to science, except while you’re still alive. And in Ozzy’s case, what kind of scientific advancement can we expect from the mapping of his genetic code? How to drink a fifth of vodka every day without turning your liver into Swiss cheese? Who knows? I guess we’ll find out.

Now, without further ado, here’s the gut-busting piece that reporter Georgina Gustin wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (which we saw in today’s Seattle Times at this location). Your own snarky comments will be welcome.

ST. LOUIS — He is famous for many things. For his eerie scream. For his “Satan worship.” For biting the head off a dove. And a bat.

But Ozzy Osbourne mostly has become famous for indulging in decades of near-legendary substance abuse — the kind that would vanquish most — and surviving.

Scientists now may find out why.  (more hilarity after the jump . . .)

While the “Godfather of Heavy Metal” won’t be in St. Louis during his current world tour, his genes will be. DNA extracted from Osbourne’s blood next month will be sent to St. Louis-based Cofactor Genomics, where researchers will sequence the rocker’s genome — or map his genetic blueprint.

“They’re taking someone who’s healthy, who should have disease, and looking at that,” said Jon Armstrong, Cofactor’s chief marketing officer. “What’s in the DNA, and what does it have that others don’t have?”

In other words: Why is the self-dubbed Prince of Darkness still alive?

Osbourne has called his existence a “modern miracle” and remains remarkably intact, despite his mumbling and shaking, amply on display during his reality-TV show “The Osbournes.”

He reportedly has sobered up and become something of a health nut.

Osbourne this year approached Knome, a company in Cambridge, Mass., to have his genome mapped. Knome, which specializes in interpreting genomes to find links to disease, tapped Cofactor to do the actual sequencing — the legwork before the interpretation begins.

“His people were interested in finding out what whole genome sequencing could help them understand in terms of one’s health outlook,” said Nathan Pearson, director of research at Knome. “It’s a publicity coup for us.”

But it also will shed some meaningful scientific light.

Knome has been hired to sequence the genome of roughly 50 commercial clients, at a cost of about $40,000 each.

“It’s the sort of people who are rich aficionados of technology, or people who have an urgent need because of some health reason,” Pearson said.

Osbourne is slightly different. He is trying to find out why he has lasted, not what could kill him.

“Ozzy’s interested in knowing more about something he already knows about himself,” Pearson said.

Pearson noted that researchers are unlikely to find the precise reason that Osbourne has tolerated his diet of alcohol and drugs.

“Are we going to be able to discover how Ozzy has been able to lead such an aggressive lifestyle? I want to tamp down expectations of that, in terms of the overall benefits to humanity of sequencing Ozzy,” he said.

Yet, Osbourne’s genome could yield important leads.

For instance, according to Pearson, the research may find a new variant in some gene that’s active in Ozzy’s liver and helps it to detoxify certain drugs better than other people’s livers can do.

“Finding that may not be a smoking gun in figuring out what makes Ozzy tick, but it might be something that a scientist can follow up on.”

Because so few human genomes have been sequenced, there’s a lack of comparative data. But more data will exist as sequencing becomes cheaper, making it easier for scientists to find connections and similarities from one genome to the next.

“We’re going to be doing it relatively cheaply,” Armstrong said. “I think what you’ll see in 10 or 15 years from now, it may be the norm. You’ll go into the doctors’ office and get your cheek swabbed and get your genome sequenced.”

So, in the future, as more people who have led a rock ‘n’ roll life have their genomes mapped, scientists will be able to glean more from the data.

The genome of fellow rock and partying legend Keith Richards might be particularly instructive, for example.

“We’re going to have to plumb Ozzy’s Rolodex for friends,” Pearson joked.


  1. I read this article myself in the paper before checking out NCS this morning…really? What happens if they fucking find some sort of hidden Ozzy fountain of youth? Future generations will have little bits of that man in them so they can snort massive amounts of cocaine and drink copious amounts of fine whiskey for 40 years and not die. I guess that may not be the worst life ever, but at what cost? You know (every science ficition movie dealing with DNA says so) that some scientist will fuck up and we’ll have billions of people wandering around looking disoriented and confused yelling out british accented jibberish, and madness would ensue. Or maybe that would be pretty metal, I dunno.

  2. Maybe they’ll find the gene for jumping up and down way too much on stage or the one that makes one insert “fucking” three times per sentence when speaking. Islander, you might be interested in that last one, considering what your favorite word seems to be.

    Aside from figuring out if there is actually anything that does keeps him ticking, it could provide some insight into other things, such as his shaking. While I don’t know if he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or any of the related diseases, it could be beneficial if there’s something there – if it’s not a side effect of years of drug and alcohol abuse, that is.

    • Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not interested in the Tourettes-like “fucking” gene. I’m pretty sure I have a batch of those in every chromosome already. But I can think of all sorts of boring stiffs who could use that kind of gene therapy.

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