Ozzy Osbourne Is a Genetic Mutant

Osbourne's genome shows he's a part-Neanderthal with key gene variants.

November 2, 2010, 11:13 AM

Nov. 3, 2010— -- Despite a lifetime of hard partying, heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne is alive and kicking at 61, and he may have his genes to thank for it. Now that the "Full Osbourne Genome" has been sequenced, the truth is out: the former lead singer of Black Sabbath is a genetic mutant.

The musician has several gene variants that "we've never seen before," said geneticist Nathaniel Pearson, who sequenced the rocker's genome, including variants that could impact how Osbourne's body absorbs methamphetamines and other recreational drugs.

"I've always said that at the end of the world there will be roaches, Ozzy and Keith Richards," Osbourne's wife Sharon Osbourne, said at Friday's conference. "He's going to outlive us all. That fascinated me -- how his body can endure so much."

Osbourne's resilience also piqued the interest of Knome, Inc., a genomics company that began sequencing the "full Ozzy genome" last July.

"Why not Ozzy?" Jorge Conde, co-founder and chief executive of Cambridge, Mass.-based Knome, told ABCnews.com.

Conde said the company was interested in exploring the genome of someone as musically talented as Osbourne. Of course, trying to figure out if good genes had anything to do with Osbourne's ability to handle his "aggressive" lifestyle was also a major draw for researchers, he said.

The results of Knome's sequencing were discussed on stage last Friday at this year'sTEDMED conference in San Diego, with Sharon Osbourne, Pearson, and Ozzy Osbourne all weighing in on what Osbourne's genes can mean for medicine.

Uncovering the Ozzy Genome

Osbourne initially was skeptical about the project, he wrote Oct. 24 in his Sunday Times of London column, "The Wisdom of Oz," but soon came around to the idea of offering his genetic code to science.

"I was curious ... given the swimming pools of booze I've guzzled over the years -- not to mention all of the cocaine, morphine, sleeping pills, cough syrup, LSD, Rohypnol ... you name it -- there's really no plausible medical reason why I should still be alive. Maybe my DNA could say why," he wrote in his column.

Not surprisingly, the most notable differences in Osbourne's genes had to do with how he processes drugs and alcohol. Genes connected to addiction, alcoholism and the absorption of marijuana, opiates and methamphetamines all had unique variations in Osbourne, a few of which Knome geneticists had never seen before.

"He had a change on the regulatory region of the ADH4 gene, a gene associated with alcoholism, that we've never seen before," Conde told ABCnews.com. "He has an increased predisposition for alcohol dependence of something like six times higher. He also had a slight increased risk for cocaine addiction, but he dismissed that. He said that if anyone has done as much cocaine he had, they would have been hooked."

The Prince of Darkness also a 2.6-times increased chance for hallucinations associated with marijuana, though Osbourne said he wouldn't know if that were true because he so rarely smoked marijuana without other drugs also in his system.

Ironically, Osbourne's genes suggest that he is a slow metabolizer of coffee, meaning that he would be more affected by caffeine.

"Turns out that Ozzy's kryptonite is caffeine," Conde said.

Conde and Pearson particularly were interested in looking at Osbourne's nervous system and nervous function, given the musician's lifestyle and his recent experience of Parkinson's-like tremors.

They found a functioning change in his TTN gene, which is associated with a number of things in the nervous system, including deafness and Parkinson's.

"Here's a guy who's rocking heavy metal for decades and he can still hear," Conde said. "It would be interesting to know if this gene may impact that. His Parkinsonian tremor -- it's hard to know if that is from his genes or from years of hard living."

And of course, there's the fact that Osbourne had Neanderthal genes in him.

"People thought that [Neanderthals] had no descendents today, but they do," Pearson said at the conference. "In east Asia and Europe, a lot of us have a little Neanderthal ancestry. We found a sliver of the genes in Ozzy. We also looked at [Knome's] founder, George Chruch, and he has about three times as much as Ozzy does."

To which Sharon Osbourne replied: "I'd like to meet him."

Learning From Our Favorite Neanderthal Rocker

While genomics have come a long way since the first full human genome was sequenced in 2003, interpreting what gene variants mean still involves a lot of guesswork.

"We can read the code, but it takes additional research to decipher what is means," Conde said.

In other words, geneticists know which traits are associated with certain genes, but not how a mutation on that gene will affect someone. By sequencing those who seem to show unique traits, such as Osbourne's ability to remain relatively healthy despite heavy drug and alcohol abuse, geneticists hope to learn more about how deviations in certain genes create specific traits, susceptibility to disease and reactions to substances.

"What interests me are people who have done something extraordinary with no clear reason as to why," Conde said.

For his next celebrity genome, he would like to pick somebody on the far extreme of intelligence such as Stephen Hawking. Or he might stick with rock-lifestyle resilience and get Keith Richards, as Sharon Osbourne suggested.

TEDMED is a yearly conference dedicated to increasing innovation in the medical realm "from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital," the website said.