Genome project is voted top discovery

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The Independent Online

The decoding of the genetic information of life has been voted number one in the top 10 scientific discoveries of the year by editors of the journal Science.

The decoding of the genetic information of life has been voted number one in the top 10 scientific discoveries of the year by editors of the journal Science.

A year ago, geneticists had managed to sequence fully the genome of just one multicellular organism - a microscopic worm. But by the end of 2000 they had added the genomes of the fruit fly, a plant and, most important of all, man.

Gene sequencing - when the DNA code is broken letter by letter - has also unravelled the digital language of the genes of several killer microbes, such as cholera and meningitis, holding out the hope of developing life-saving drugs. The top 10 scientific achievements of the year are chosen for their profound implications for society as well as for their importance in advancing scientific knowledge.

Genomics, the study of gene data, is now in "hyperdrive", Science says. "A new breed of computer-savvy biologists is hacking through the thickets of the DNA code, discovering not just genes but also other important bits of genetic material, and even evolutionary secrets," says an editorial in America's leading journal.

The advances in genomics will bring new insights into cancer, ageing and the immune system but will bring with them equally a host of ethical questions that society has only just begun to address, says Science.

Other breakthroughs:

* Discovering the structure 10 of the cell's protein factory, the microscopic ribosome.

* Making plastics that can conduct electricity, which may form the basis of revolutionary electronics of the future.

* Finding 1.7 million-year-old fossil skulls in the former Soviet republic of Georgia that may represent the first humans to live outside Africa.

* Advances in cloning technology and stem cell research, which promise new treatments for incurable illnesses and novel ways of saving endangered species.

* The completion of the most detailed map of the universe using high-altitude balloons.

* Isolating the receptor molecules that allow hormones to communicate with cells, leading to new targets for treating diseases.

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