Genes responsible for many deadly diseases identified by genome team

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The Independent Online

Three chapters in the genetic "book of man" were published last night by scientists who have decoded the genes on three more human chromosomes. With one chromosome already deciphered, this marks a milestone in the plan to publish the first "working draft" of the entire human genome by this summer.

Three chapters in the genetic "book of man" were published last night by scientists who have decoded the genes on three more human chromosomes. With one chromosome already deciphered, this marks a milestone in the plan to publish the first "working draft" of the entire human genome by this summer.

A joint effort by some of America's most sensitive nuclear weapons laboratories, who had the spare computing power to perform the task ahead of schedule, meant scientists now know the DNA code of between 10,000 and 15,000 extra human genes - about 6 per cent of the total.

The genes, on chromosome numbers 5, 16 and 19, include those implicated in many important diseases, such as prostate and colorectal cancer, leukaemia, high-blood pressure and atherosclerosis. The full and detailed map of all 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human genome, which is likely to be finished well before the scheduled date of 2003, is expected to revolutionise medicine in the 21st century.

A fully decoded human genome, encompassing a 23-chapter "book" of some three billion "letters" will create an explosion in medical knowledge, leading to new diagnostic tests, drugs tailor-made for individual patients and new gene therapies that might destroy inherited disorders.

Scientists from the three weapons laboratories at Los Alamos, Livermore, and Berkeley in California who formed the Joint Genome Institute, said that the working draft consists of more than 95 per cent of the genes on the three chromosomes. The final 5 per cent should be completed within three years.

Bill Richardson, the USSecretary of Energy who announced the latest breakthrough in Washington DC, said: "Scientists can already mine this treasure trove of information for the advances it may bring in our basic understanding of life as well as applications such as diagnosing, treating and eventually preventing disease."

All the information relating to the DNA sequences will be published and available free to all scientists as part of the Joint Genome Institute's collaborative agreement with the international Human Genome Project.

Last month, the project leaders announced they had finished sequencing about two-thirds of the 3bn DNA letters of the genetic book of man.

Last week, scientists at the project's private rival, Celera Genomics of Maryland, said they had finished sequencing the first working draft of the entire genome.

But other scientists said Celera's approach has not permitted the sequences to be arranged in their correct order, making the information next to useless until this is done.

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