The new picture
The accelerating pace of scientific and technological progress, which
made it possible, within just a decade, to complete the first full sequencing
of the human genome - and of a growing number of other living organisms
- is heralding a new era in molecular biology and genetics, in particular
for human medicine. However, it is going to take a very large-scale and
long-term research effort if the promises of this 'post-genomic age' are
to be realised.
At the end of 2000, the race between the vast international public consortium
behind the Human Genome project and the private company Celera, headed
by the American Craig Venter, resulted in a joint first - the announcement,
amid much media fanfare, of the sequencing of the more than 3 billion
nucleotide 'letters' which make up the human DNA macromolecule. The event
was rightly heralded as a significant step towards a revolutionary new
scientific age of the 21st century. It is an achievement which brings
extraordinary new prospects for the world of medicine.
A complete genomic mapping of man opens the door to the identification
of his genes and subsequently to all the proteins these genes code for
the complete functioning of the human body. This new biological 'tool'
therefore has the potential to change completely our whole approach to
the treatment of disease, making it possible to modify deficient genes
(gene therapy) or produce new medicines - as is already the case for insulin
administered to diabetics.
From the quantitative to the qualitative
The job of decoding the complete genome is now giving way to the so-called
post-genomic approach. This involves a long and delicate hypothetical
and deductive study of the hundreds of millions of data stored in US,
European and Japanese databanks. Work is already well under way on this
and scientific journals are constantly announcing new genetic lines of
inquiry on the basis of the initial indicators obtained from studies or
experiments involving a particular sequence. The potential applications
concern the most diverse diseases - cancer, diabetes, cardio-vascular
complaints, children's diseases and rare, communicable or neuro-degenerative
Post-genomics also brings the prospect of surprises and unexpected discoveries
which could overturn some accepted ideas and provide new and unsuspected
insight into the fundamental mechanisms of life. The most recent and surprising
of these concerned the number of genes which govern the human body. It
was assumed to be several hundred million. The real figure has now had
to be drastically revised downward to about 30 000 - which is about the
same number as in a 'lower' micro-organism such as yeast.
The genetic iceberg
This disconcerting discovery suggests that identifying all these genes
is most probably the tip of the knowledge iceberg. The real key lies in
the incredible complexity of the manufacture of the hundreds of thousands
of proteins, characterised by their subtle three-dimensional deployment.
This in turn brings us to a new science, the daughter of post-genomics:
proteomics. The mystery also remains regarding the innumerable alignments
of the letters - whose significance is not known - which make up the global
sequencing of the human genome and of which genes are just a small part.
Full report at:
Please also take a
look at the:
Club of Amsterdam Forum
and the conference about 'the
future of Medicine - The Patient Experince' on May 28,