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Mr. Naresh Chandra

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Mr. D. P. Gautam

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Dr. Maleeha Lodhi

Ambassador of Sri Lanka
Dr. W. Rasaputram

Delhi - the resilient city


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Sunil Dutt

Genomics - decoding genes

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the-south-asian.com                         December 2000

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GENOMICS: the study of genes
Greater than the Internet ?


The science of decoding the human genetic code is for some scientists more important than the Internet. Taking a contrary view on genetics research, to the traditional media hype, Esther Dyson [daughter of Freeman Dyson, the famous Physicist ] Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Studies School of Natural Sciences at Princeton University makes the following argument.

Currently the three scientific activities being pursued vigorously in Genomics are in order of priority:

1. The Human Genome Project – to determine the exact sequence of the 3 billion base pairs in the genetic apparatus of a human being. This is an International Program being paid for by governments and is very glamorous and politicized.

2. The Sequencing of Individual genes, human & non-human, for medicinal interest.

This program is paid by pharmaceutical companies and done in labs.

3. Determination of the 3D shape and Structure of Protein Molecules, which are the active chemical agents that cells manufacture by following instructions provided by genes – done mostly at universities with some funding by companies and governments.

Esther Dyson argues that the order should be reversed. The technology to do Research in areas # 1 and # 2 – i.e. , the human genome project and Sequencing genes should become cheap and fast. Research Area # 3, the structural analysis of Proteins, is the most difficult and most important – because proteins switch genes on and off, and most diseases are caused by absent essential proteins. There are about 100,000 different proteins in a human cell and only about 5000 have known structures--. hence the need to speed up this area – so that drugs can be designed rationally.

One company DeCode Genetics is taking up the database of the population of Iceland with the idea that the homogeneity of the population will help identify which genes have harmless genetic variations and which have detrimental mutations . Using the excellent genealogical records in Iceland, this database of medical history, disease, treatment outcomes gives researchers a depth of comprehension on gene-based diseases.

However there are arguments about the level of interbreeding of the Icelandic population and whether such patterns would be as pure as fruit fly or mice breeding; the applicability of the same approach to Hispanic /African and other population groups is questioned by some researchers.


For Genetic techniques such as Positional Cloning and Sequencing Tools there are companies such as Affymetrix [ product name - Genechip ], Hyseq, Synteni [ acquired by Incyte] , Human Genome Sciences and Millennium Pharmaceuticals – that develop semi conductors for analyzing genetic samples by putting reams of data onto silicon and allowing many more tests to be done . Caliper Technologies uses a technique similar to somewhat like putting a laboratory on a chip. Nanogen makes a semiconductor – application specific integrated circuit "ASIC" chip that can be used in the processing and analysis of genetic samples. Consider these companies as the hunters of information. The tools they are developing will assist in instant analysis for a patient genetic profile so that gene specific medical care can be applied as soon as a patient walks into a doctor’s clinic.


BioInformatics is the description best suited to the companies that are in the process management/ or gathering of information. Incyte charges $ 5 million a year for use of its database. Pharsight has built software that assists in simulating the FDA trials for drug test & use. Perkin-Elmer Applied Biosystems is developing a standard software package on genetic information similar to an accounting package. The idea behind the bioinformatics approach is to create gene related information data bases that can then be mined / analysed by pharmaceutical companies as part of their search for cures to human diseases.



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