Getting to know you
The human genome is complex, to say the least, with an estimated 20,000-25,000 genes all coding everything from eye colour, to handedness and height.
The Human Genome Project, which began in 1990, took almost 15 years to complete, and we’re only now beginning to get to grips with what it all means.
Today, many laboratories contain what’s known as a gene
One of Cambridge’s most notable contributions to gene
Lab, to local pub, to world stage
In the mid to late-nineties, two researchers from the University of Cambridge Chemistry Department were trying to think of ways to make use of all of the newly-emerging information on the human genome, and of Cambridge’s contribution to the understanding of DNA - think Crick and Watson.
The decades-long quest of scientists around the world to sequence the human
The result was sequencing by synthesis
Solexa was acquired by Illumina in 2007, along with the know-how to build and develop even better gene sequencing machines. Through Illumina, the technology invented in Cambridge now sits in labs around the world. In fact, there are more Cambridge-inspired Illumina machines in operation, than those of the rest of the gene sequencing vendors combined.
Gene sequencer machines like the ones produced by
Illumina,can deliver results in a matter of hours, which is significant, considering the years it’s taken us to sequence genes in the past.
Great, but what does it mean?
Ok, so we’ve learnt how to decode DNA. We can look at individual genes and sequences of genes, but what does it mean for you and your mum?
We’ve all got a head, a brain, a heart and some intestines, but when things get specific, the variations in our genes are pretty astonishing. Ever wondered why one person is long and thin with blonde hair, and another is short and fat with brown hair? Genes. Ever wondered why some people get a certain disease but others don’t? Genes (and sometimes lifestyle.)
Genes are responsible for what you look like, how physically capable you are, and even to an extent, how you behave. Jim Fallon gives an incredible TED talk on what some people are calling “the serial killer gene.”
The more we understand about genes, the more we understand about ourselves: what makes us sick, what makes us behave how we behave, and which treatments are best for us.
The age of gene therapy
The idea behind gene therapy, or treating illnesses according to genetics, is that one size does not fit all. We’re all different, and we all respond differently to medications. Some people can’t take ibuprofen because it makes them sick, and in extreme cases, cancer treatments just don’t seem to work
If you get ill, understanding your genes allows doctors to tailor a treatment specifically for you, that’s going to work with maximum efficacy according to your genetic make-up.
Gene therapy isn’t commonplace yet, but it’s a start, and we can thank gene