Sci­en­tists to seek ge­netic clues in ‘mod­ern mir­a­cle’ of Ozzy Os­bourne’s sur­vival

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Ge­orgina Gustin

ST. LOUIS — He is fa­mous for many things. For his eerie rock star scream. For bit­ing the head off a bat.

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

Now sci­en­tists could find out why.

Though the “God­fa­ther of Heavy Metal” may not be head­ing to St. Louis dur­ing his cur­rent world tour, his genes are. Some­time this month, some of Os­bourne’s DNA will be sent to St. Louis-based Co­fac­tor Ge­nomics, where re­searchers will se­quence Os­bourne’s genome — or map his ge­netic blue­print.

“They’re tak­ing some­one who’s healthy, who should have dis­ease, and look­ing at that,” ex­plained 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 de­spite the rocker’s mum­bling and shak­ing, am­ply on dis­play dur­ing his re­al­ity tele­vi­sion show “The Os­bournes,” he re­mains re­mark­ably in­tact. In re­cent years, he has re­port­edly sobered up and even be­come some­thing of a health nut.

Ear­lier this year, Os­bourne 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 of the genome — 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 about 50 com­mer­cial clients.

“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, not­ing that the cost is about $40,000.

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 it’s un­likely that re­searchers will find the pre­cise rea­son 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.”

But there’s a chance that Os­bourne’s genome could yield some im­por­tant leads.

“Maybe we will find a new vari­ant in a gene that’s expressed in Ozzy’s liver, and that gene may al­ready be im­pli­cated in detox­i­fy­ing some class of drugs,” Pearson said. “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.”

Ozzy Os­bourne

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