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[Focus] Human genome map unveiled

Posted February. 12, 2001 19:16,   


The public unveiling of the human genome map made explicit the connection between gene abnormalities and diseases and offered the promise that it may hold the key to developing epoch-making cures.

It is estimated that alterations that take place in genome, the sum total of the human genetic code, are related to at least 1,500 diseases such as cancer, stroke and diabetes.

Using the genome map, scientists say it will be possible to single out disease-causing genes, develop exclusive treatments for individual patients, put an end to birth defects and wipe out preventable diseases.

It is also expected that the causes of toxic diseases or mental illnesses can be determined along with the reason why the development of full-blown AIDS differs among human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) patients. Medical experts believe that some 50 percent of toxic diseases are caused by genetic factors.

Francis Collins, head of the human genome project team, said that humankind will be able to control and change the direction of the evolution within 30 years by using the genome map and give rise to a gene-manipulated human by 2020.

It is also forecast that bioengineering companies will engage in fierce competition to commercialize the genome map because the development of revolutionary new medicines to cure cancer, dementia and other incurable diseases would make more a huge windfall.

According to the U.S. Industrial Property Office, a total of 30,000 patent applications in the fields of organic chemistry and bioengineering were filed last year, the majority of them related to genes.

However, scientists remain in the dark on a number of key questions, such as exactly how altered genes cause diseases and how to prevent such changes.

Experts believe that it may takes decades of genome map research before new medicines can be developed.

Meanwhile, the British science magazine "Nature"put an embargo on the genome map announcement Monday, but some newspapers reported it in advance and announced the lifting of the embargo through e-mails to scientific and medical reporters throughout the world on Sunday morning.

Hong Seong-Chul sungchul@donga.com