The science of decoding the human genetic
code is for some scientists more important than the Internet. Taking a
contrary view on genetics research, to the traditional media hype,
Esther Dyson [daughter of Freeman Dyson, the famous Physicist ]
Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Studies School of
Natural Sciences at Princeton University makes the following argument.
Currently the three scientific activities
being pursued vigorously in Genomics are in order of priority:
1. The Human Genome Project to
determine the exact sequence of the 3 billion base pairs in the genetic
apparatus of a human being. This is an International Program being paid
for by governments and is very glamorous and politicized.
2. The Sequencing of Individual genes,
human & non-human, for medicinal interest.
This program is paid by pharmaceutical
companies and done in labs.
3. Determination of the 3D shape and Structure
of Protein Molecules, which are the active chemical agents that
cells manufacture by following instructions provided by genes done
mostly at universities with some funding by companies and governments.
Esther Dyson argues that the order should
be reversed. The technology to do Research in areas # 1 and # 2 i.e.
, the human genome project and Sequencing genes should become cheap and
fast. Research Area # 3, the structural analysis of Proteins, is the
most difficult and most important because proteins switch genes on
and off, and most diseases are caused by absent essential proteins.
There are about 100,000 different proteins in a human cell and only
about 5000 have known structures--. hence the need to speed up this area
so that drugs can be designed rationally.
One company DeCode Genetics is
taking up the database of the population of Iceland with
the idea that the homogeneity of the population will help identify which
genes have harmless genetic variations and which have detrimental
mutations . Using the excellent genealogical records in Iceland, this
database of medical history, disease, treatment outcomes gives
researchers a depth of comprehension on gene-based diseases.
However there are arguments about the
level of interbreeding of the Icelandic population and whether such
patterns would be as pure as fruit fly or mice breeding; the
applicability of the same approach to Hispanic /African and other
population groups is questioned by some researchers.
For Genetic techniques such as Positional
Cloning and Sequencing Tools there are companies such as Affymetrix [
product name - Genechip ], Hyseq, Synteni [ acquired by Incyte] ,
Human Genome Sciences and Millennium Pharmaceuticals
that develop semi conductors for analyzing genetic samples by putting
reams of data onto silicon and allowing many more tests to be done . Caliper
Technologies uses a technique similar to somewhat like putting a
laboratory on a chip. Nanogen makes a semiconductor
application specific integrated circuit "ASIC" chip that can
be used in the processing and analysis of genetic samples. Consider
these companies as the hunters of information. The tools they are
developing will assist in instant analysis for a patient genetic profile
so that gene specific medical care can be applied as soon as a patient
walks into a doctors clinic.
BioInformatics is the description best
suited to the companies that are in the process management/ or gathering
of information. Incyte charges $ 5 million a year for use of its
database. Pharsight has built software that assists in simulating
the FDA trials for drug test & use. Perkin-Elmer Applied
Biosystems is developing a standard software package on genetic
information similar to an accounting package. The idea behind the
bioinformatics approach is to create gene related information data bases
that can then be mined / analysed by pharmaceutical companies as part of
their search for cures to human diseases.