CHENNAI: With India’s diversity across the country, possession of the genomic information of India could make it the most interesting country for scientists to study, said scientist Eric Lander, one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project.
The planning for the much intriguing Human Genome Project , which aims to identify and map all the genes in the human genome, began in 1984 and the project was declared completed in 2003.
Lander has pioneered principles for identifying human gene diseases for the past 15 years, and has enabled their application to medicine through analysis of genetic maps. The scientists have applied these tools to understand the basis of diseases, including cancer, diabetes and psychiatric diseases.
“Finding the genome seemed like finding a needle a haystack, or rather, three billion haystacks,” Lander said, speaking to a packed hall of medical students and biologists as part of the three-city Cell Press-TNQ Distinguished Lectureship Series. “April 25 was the day we celebrated the completion of the project — the day was also the 50th anniversary of the Watson and Crick DNA model. They had never imagined that they would live to see a full sequence of a human genome,” The hype, he said, was huge with banner headlines proclaiming that the ‘genetic code of human life was cracked by scientists.’ “We now had 3 billion letters of DNA — we had to read meaning into the text. It was like me trying to read a book in Tamil,” he said.
Using what he called ‘the rosetta stone of DNA studies,’ — the DNA of the mouse- and genome sequences of other vertebrates, the scientists began making sense of the codes. “Precision medicine is the real human genome for the new generation,” he said, referring to the medical model that proposes the customisation of healthcare, where diagnostic testing is employed based on a patient’s genetic content or other molecular or cellular analysis. Stressing the sharing of information across the world, Lander spoke of the vast potential India has in the field of genetics that needs to be exploited.