J. Craig Venter, a businessman in the biotechnology and genetics field, is the first man to have almost his entire DNA sequenced. The difference between this announcement and earlier ones claiming to have mapped the entire human genome, is that Mr Venter’s genome included both his mother’s and father’s chromosome information:
But Venter’s effort is important. It is the first time a person’s genome has been laid out in public for the world to see. Still, it is a milestone, not a breakthrough. The real revolution is on its way. There are thousands more genomes coming, with the potential to change the world.
Some of the credit Venter’s already getting doesn’t really belong to him. Other sequences, nearly complete, have been created by government projects. His big scientific conclusion, that people are actually pretty different from each other on a genetic level, is no surprise to geneticists. The more accurate map of his genome, published Tuesday in The Public Library of Science, an online journal, is most important because it is going to help scientists make many more such maps–and because it opens the door to people being willing to have their genome’s sequenced.
Already there’s a revolution on. Two-dozen bits of genetic code have been linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes this year. But those studies are crudely done, sampling the genome with landmarks akin to zip codes–they likely miss a lot.
And the genome maps created by the government and Celera Genomics, the biotech Venter headed back in 2000, are averages of several individuals, so they miss the very genetic differences that would cause disease. We get half our genes from mom and half from dad, but both Celera and the government-funded group only mapped one half, figuring the basic genetic layout was the same for the genes we get from each parent.
Some of Venter’s DNA was part of what was sequenced at Celera, at an estimated cost of $60 million. He took it with him to a new institute he was founding and poured at least $10 million more and seven years into getting a really accurate sequence of all his DNA–including the 23 chromosomes he got from each parent. Roughly speaking, Venter and his researchers were able to compare the DNA he got from his mom with what he got from his dad.
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