Using Genomics to Study Human Biology and Disease



Richard M. Myers

Stanford University School of Medicine




The Human Genome Project culminated in April 2003 with the finished DNA sequence of all of the human chromosomes. This book of information, particularly in conjunction with the genome sequences of many other organisms, has already begun to revolutionize the way that biomedical scientists study our species. The identification of essentially all of our genes has provided a template upon which researchers can discover basic processes that govern cells, organs, and the whole organism, and to understand the fundamental causes of the diseases that occur when something goes wrong with a gene or a set of genes. The Genome Project has already made it possible to identify the genes that are defective in more than 1,000 rare inherited diseases, and these discoveries have helped to understand the mechanisms of the more common forms of these disorders. This understanding of primary defects in diseases which is translated as mutations in genes that encode proteins that serve specific functions is transforming the way that biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies identify drug targets, and a few notable cases have already had a striking impact on specific diseases. In addition, it has become clear that the differential response to drugs in human populations is heavily influenced by genes, and a whole field called pharmacogenetics has begun to identify these genetic factors. Such knowledge will allow physicians to prescribe drugs targeted to each individual, with the potential to increase efficacy and decrease side-effects. Determining the DNA sequence of the human genome and identifying the genes has been an exciting endeavor, but we are only just beginning to understand the treasures present in all of our DNA. My presentation will briefly describe the road we took to get the sequence, as well as the tools that we are developing to unlock its secrets.