Dr. Eric Lander, Founder-Director, Whitehead Institute Center for Genomics Research & Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) presented a talk on "Beyond the Human Genome - Health and Medicine in the post-Genomics Era” at Tie-Boston’s monthly dinner meeting. Dr. Lander described the need for the human genome project and the contribution of the WhiteHead institute in gathering genomic information. He emphasized the applications of this information and explained the opportunities it has created.
“Biology is becoming an engineering science, which is a combination of information and laboratory, ” said Lander. He feels that there is a big demand for scientists who have the skills to analyze genomic of information. There is huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to make use genomic information and provide affordable cure for diseases.
Dr. Lander outlined the history of genomics. “The scientific progress made falls naturally into four main phases, corresponding roughly to the four quarters of the century,” said Lander. He described the developments in the four quarters. The first established the cellular basis of heredity – the chromosomes; the second defined the molecular basis of heredity- the DNA double helix; the third unlocked the informational basis of heredity; the fourth saw the drive to decipher first genes, and then entire genomes, leading to the creation of the field of genomics.
The sequencing of CFG is a very(a very small sequence in comparison to human genome) that took 50 million dollars, 5 years and 150 people in 1989. This illustrated the need for a faster and better way to sequence genes in human DNA and an efficient mechanism to store this information. The human genome project was initiated to this need. The project began in 1990 and in anticipated completion in 2003 , coinciding with 50 years of discovery of DNA.
The information generated from the human genome has tremendous applications. “ Take genome to the bed and every night you have a new story”, said Lander. He described its application in comparative genomics, human genetic variation and RNA variation
When asked about his opinion on human cloning and stem cell research, he said, “ There are no compelling reasons to do cloning, conventional method is working. The technology is not there yet.” Stem cells provide lot of benefits. They can be transformed into insulin producing cells, organs, blood cells, etc. In response to a question on the state of research in aging and longevity, Dr. Lander explained that life span is embedded in the gene. More research is required to indetify the genes responsible for aging and longevity and to produce drugs to extend life span.
Commenting on the American system of information sharing in medical field, he said that the information relating to ‘cause’ of a disease is public information, while the ‘cure’ is private information. He felt that the system aids in gathering fundamental information, yet encourages entrepreneurship.
The meeting was organized by the Life Sciences Special Inteterst Group (SIG). Dr. Anil Khurana, co-chair of this SIG, explained the role Life Sciences in contemporary businesses and the opportunities that exist in this arena. He also talked about the mission and activities of Life Sciences SIG.
Vinod Khosla is the featured speaker for next TiE meeting on April 30th at Cambridge Marriott. Vinod Khosla was a co-founder of Daisy Systems and founding Chief Executive Officer of Sun Microsystems where he pioneered open systems and commercial RISC processors. He serves on the boards of Centrata, Indian School of Business, Infinera, Juniper Networks, Kovio, OnFiber Communications, QWEST Communications, SEEC, Zambeel and Zaplet
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