Friday, April 25, 2008

50 + 5 years today ...

Its DNA Day today (April 25) - it is 55 years since the day that James Watson and Francis Crick published their paper in Nature on the helical structure of DNA. It commemorates the day in 1953 when James Watson and Francis Crick's paper on the structure of DNA was published in the journal Nature. There is another reason why this day is such a landmark day - its exactly five years since the completion of the Human Genome Project. The HGP was a complex multidisciplinary scientific enterprise directed at mapping and sequencing all of the human DNA, and determining aspects of its function. A working draft of the human genome sequence was announced in June of 2000, an initial analysis was published in February of 2001, and a high-quality, reference sequence was completed in April 2003. This was a monumental event in science and the fact that it coincided with the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest breakthroughs in biology is just remarkable.

I therefore consider myself incredibly fortunate that I got an opportunity to listen to Francis Collins on this day. Francis Collins, MD, PhD, is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He led the successful effort to complete Human Genome Project and has been at the forefront of pushing genomic research to improve human health.

As the understanding of the human genome grows and is applied towards developing diagnostic tests for genetic predisposition to diseases and therapeutics to treat them, it has also raised issues about legislation to protect patient rights. To make the story even perfect, the Senate unanimously passed legislation yesterday that prevents discrimination by insurance companies and employers based on genetic profiling. The news had not even hit the wires, when Dr. Collins made this announcement during his talk yesterday afternoon. The legislation has been stuck in Congress for about 10 years now, and will finally get signed into law within the next few days. Both the House and the Bush administration are expected to back it fully.

A remarkable day today ... DNA day ... celebrate some of the greatest scientific achievements of man, and pay tribute to the outstanding scientists whose hard work has brought us thus far.

Check out the superb chronological map of the progress in genetics from the early studies of Gregor Mendel to the completion of the HGP. It appeared in the April 24 issue of Nature (2003) and lays out the NHGRI's vision for the future of genomics research (Collins et al., Nature, Vol. 422, No. 6934, April 24, 2003, p. 835-847).

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