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The Genome and all the Hoo-Haa

Linguist: "Life is a four lettered word" Genomist: "Yeah! Spelt C-G-A-T".

The Human Genome Project bounced back to news recently when it was officially declared as being "mapped". It took the collective research of numerous individuals and organizations the world over to achieve this so-called Herculean task. Though this recent advance in HGP ran a hoard of smiles around the genetic circles, the "Big Bang" is still not quite at the horizons.

The 'Genome' is a term used to describe the genetic information contained in every single human cell. Sitting inside the nucleus of each of the several trillion cells of the human being is a tightly coiled structure (~2m long, talk of complexity!!) called the DNA (De-Oxy-Ribose nucleic acid). This DNA strand consists of thousands of individual genes, which are divided among 23 pairs of chromosomes. Four basic nucleic acids CGA&T (
Cytosine, Guanine, Adenosine & Thiamine) compose the DNA by forming nucleotides called 'base pairs'. Sequences of these base pairs constitute the code for "biological instructions" called Genes. In genome mapping, each of these instructions is expressed as a unique string of letters such as ATGCCGATTA….(some times, miles long). Isolating these sequences for each and every gene found in the body is what was achieved when the

Sounds incredible! Yes, The potential is. But we are far away from that dream. Take a look at this analogy. Imagine being on an expedition that discovered an ancient city. The idea is to figure out how to move about in that city. Different teams would first start  out in different directions, giving random names to each place and street as they visit it. At the end of the day, everyone gets together and jots down the gathered information. Next step is to assimilate everything and come up with a unified mapping. Once that is done, we know everything about that city. A Fairly simple task. Now bring in Joe Black "Multiply this by a billion and take it to the depths of infinity and u will fairly have an idea of what the human genome is".

3.1 billion 'base pairs' and a near infinite set of "instructions" look straight into the faces of genome expert's world over throwing a challenge to "Come, get us". It will take a lot of time, talent and technology to expand the frontiers of medicine in this direction, and maybe change the face of modern medicine. The future holds a lot of promise; cures for cancers, better and cheaper medicine are just a few things. We are at the brink of a new revolution. Definitely, yet another scientific boom.

Sashank Ganti

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