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Unveiling mysteries of human body

Posted February. 14, 2001 19:36,   


1.Competition to take the lead in genetic revolution heats up

With the completion of the human genome map, advanced countries like the United States, Germany and Japan have entered into a fierce competition to take the initiative in the "genetic revolution¡¯¡¯ by subsidizing genetic research.

The U.S.-led Human Genome Project (HGP), a multinational research body, said Monday that it will spur on research on the treatment of diseases and development of new medicines, the second-phase of the human genome effort, under the leadership of the National Institute of Health (NIH).

For this ambitious project, the U.S. plans to earmark an unprecedented $335.52 million (20.9 trillion won) for the NIH budget next year and foster the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) as the "Mecca of bioengineering.¡¯¡¯

NHGRI is now pushing ahead with the work of decoding the genomes of animals, including rats, whose deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is similar to humans, as well as advancing the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) research project to document genetic differences between individual humans.

Germany is also moving ahead swiftly, announcing Monday a plan to develop the genetics industry with an investment of 870 million marks (about 500 billion won) over the next three years.

German Minister of Education and Research Edelgard Buhlmahn said the ministry would use 350 million marks by 2003 to construct networks between genetic research institutes.

If Germany forms such a network in the course of analyzing genetic functions and researching diseases, the country is expected to surpass Britain and France, leaders in genetic research, in the near future.

Japan lags behind the U.S. in research on the human genome, but has worked out an ambitious plan to greatly boost its investments in the fields of bioengineering, vowing not to catch up with the U.S. in post genome research aimed at putting the genome map to practical use.

Toward this end, Japan increased the genome-related budget of the Ministry of Education and Science to 80.2 billion yen (842.1 billion won), up 16.6 percent from last year¡¯s 68.8 billion yen (722.4 billion won).

Japan plans to increase the size of the bio-market to 25 trillion yen from the present 1 trillion yen by 2010 and to set up 1,000 bio-related venture firms.

By Paik Kyung-Hak, Lee Young-Ee

2. Tasks and Prospect

The completion of the human genome map promises to even further accelerate genetic research, but there are still many problems to be solved. One is to unveil the function and role of genes.

The Associated Press said: "Imagine trying to figure out how a large corporation works by scrutinizing its telephone directory. You¡¯ve got lots of names and locations. But what does each of these people do? How do they work together to get things done? If something goes wrong, what employees or teams are at fault?¡¯¡¯

Scientists will have to determine the functions and roles of human genes numbering 26,000 to 39,000.

Dr. Craig Venter, president of Celera Genomics Corporation, who participated in the human genome-decoding project, said that 40 percent of the minimum genes in his group¡¯s count are mysteries, with no known function.

Therefore, genuine biological understanding will come not only from learning what individual genes do, but also from tackling more complex questions related to how genes work together, how their activity is regulated and how the proteins they give rise to interact.

Scientists are most concerned about finding disease-promoting genes by using human genome data. By pointing out the subtle variations in DNA codes between people, the inheritance patterns that bring about variations in gene structure can be found.

Once a chromosome region is indicated in this way, the DNA code for that region can be quickly searched on a computer database and the direct causes of diseases can theoretically be found.

Such computer searches have found that 286 genes have something to do with diseases.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NHGRI of the U.S., said, "It took 10 years to isolate the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. Now a comparable search could be finished by a single graduate student in about two weeks.¡¯¡¯

But Dr. Venter said, "In spite of these achievements, it would be difficult to find the secret of human character and intelligence using only the DNA code.¡¯¡¯

By Paik Kyung-Hak