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| Rapid progress in genome science and a glimpse into its potential
applications have spurred observers to predict that biology will be the
foremost science of the 21st century. Technology and resources generated
by the Human Genome Project and other genomics research are already having
a major impact on research across the life sciences. The potential for commercial
development of genomics research presents U.S. industry with a wealth of
opportunities, and sales of DNA-based products and technologies in the biotechnology
industry are projected to exceed $45 billion by 2009 (Consulting Resources
Corporation Newsletter, Spring 1999).
Some current and potential applications of genome research include
- Molecular medicine
- Energy sources and environmental applications
- Risk assessment
- Bioarchaeology, anthropology, evolution, and human migration
- DNA forensics (identification)
- Agriculture, livestock breeding, and bioprocessing
APPLICATIONS poster (1472K)
For more details about these applications, see below.
Technology and resources promoted by the Human Genome Project are starting to have profound
impacts on biomedical research and promise to revolutionize the wider spectrum of biological
research and clinical medicine. Increasingly detailed genome maps have aided researchers seeking
genes associated with dozens of genetic conditions, including myotonic dystrophy, fragile X
syndrome, neurofibromatosis types 1 and 2, inherited colon cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and
familial breast cancer.
- Improved diagnosis of disease
- Earlier detection of genetic predispositions to disease
- Rational drug design
- Gene therapy and control systems for drugs
- Pharmacogenomics "custom drugs"
On the horizon is a new era of molecular medicine characterized less by treating symptoms and
more by looking to the most fundamental causes of disease. Rapid and more specific diagnostic
tests will make possible earlier treatment of countless maladies. Medical researchers also will be
able to devise novel therapeutic regimens based on new classes of drugs, immunotherapy
techniques, avoidance of environmental conditions that may trigger disease, and possible
augmentation or even replacement of defective genes through gene therapy.
For more information, see Medicine and the New Genetics
and Fast Forward to 2020: What to Expect in
Molecular Medicine --an article for online magazine TNTY Futures.
Energy and Environmental Applications
In 1994, taking advantage of new capabilities developed by the genome project,
DOE initiated the Microbial Genome Program to sequence the genomes of bacteria
useful in energy production, environmental remediation, toxic waste reduction,
and industrial processing. A follow-on program, Genomic Science Program (GSP)
builds on data and resources from the Human Genome Project, the Microbial
Genome Program, and systems biology. GSP will accelerate understanding of
dynamic living systems for solutions to DOE mission challenges in energy
and the environment.
- Use microbial genomics research to create new energy sources (biofuels)
- Use microbial genomics research to develop environmental monitoring techniques to detect pollutants
- Use microbial genomics research for safe, efficient environmental remediation
- Use microbial genomics research for carbon sequestration
Despite our reliance on the inhabitants of the microbial world, we know
little of their number or their nature: estimates are that less than 0.01%
of all microbes have been cultivated and characterized. Microbial genome sequencing will help lay a foundation for knowledge that will
ultimately benefit human health and the environment. The economy will
benefit from further industrial applications of microbial capabilities.
Information gleaned from the characterization of complete microbial
genomes will lead to insights into the development of such new energy-related
biotechnologies as photosynthetic systems, microbial systems that function
in extreme environments, and organisms that can metabolize readily available
renewable resources and waste material with equal facility. Expected benefits
also include development of diverse new products, processes, and test
methods that will open the door to a cleaner environment. Biomanufacturing
will use nontoxic chemicals and enzymes to reduce the cost and improve
the efficiency of industrial processes. Microbial enzymes have been used
to bleach paper pulp, stone wash denim, remove lipstick from glassware,
break down starch in brewing, and coagulate milk protein for cheese production.
In the health arena, microbial sequences may help researchers find new
human genes and shed light on the disease-producing properties of pathogens.
Microbial genomics will also help pharmaceutical researchers gain a better
understanding of how pathogenic microbes cause disease. Sequencing these microbes
will help reveal vulnerabilities and identify new drug targets.
Gaining a deeper understanding of the microbial world also will provide insights
into the strategies and limits of life on this planet. Data generated in this
young program have helped scientists identify the minimum number of
genes necessary for life and confirm the existence of a third major kingdom
of life. Additionally, the new genetic techniques now allow us to establish
more precisely the diversity of microorganisms and identify those critical
maintaining or restoring the function and integrity of large and small ecosystems;
this knowledge also can be useful in monitoring and predicting environmental
change. Finally, studies on microbial communities provide models for understanding
biological interactions and evolutionary history.
For more information, see:
Understanding the human genome will have an enormous impact on the ability to assess risks
posed to individuals by exposure to toxic agents. Scientists know that genetic differences make
some people more susceptible and others more resistant to such agents. Far more work must be
done to determine the genetic basis of such variability. This knowledge will directly address
DOE's long-term mission to understand the effects of low-level exposures to radiation and other
energy-related agents, especially in terms of cancer risk.
- Assess health damage and risks caused by radiation exposure, including low-dose exposures
- Assess health damage and risks caused by exposure to mutagenic chemicals and
- Reduce the likelihood of heritable mutations
Bioarchaeology, Anthropology, Evolution, and Human Migration
Understanding genomics will help us understand human evolution and the common
biology we share with all of life. Comparative genomics between humans and other
organisms such as mice already has led to similar genes associated with diseases
and traits. Further comparative studies will help determine the yet-unknown function
of thousands of other genes.
- Study evolution through germline mutations in lineages
- Study migration of different population groups based on female genetic inheritance
- Study mutations on the Y chromosome to trace lineage and migration of males
- Compare breakpoints in the evolution of mutations with ages of populations and historical
Comparing the DNA sequences of entire genomes of differerent microbes will
provide new insights about relationships among the three kingdoms of life: archaebacteria,
eukaryotes, and prokaryotes.
DNA Forensics (Identification)
Any type of organism can be identified by examination of DNA sequences unique to that species.
Identifying individuals is less precise, although when DNA sequencing technologies
progress further, direct characterization of very large DNA segments, and possibly even whole
genomes, will become feasible and practical and will allow precise individual identification.
- Identify potential suspects whose DNA may match evidence left at crime scenes
- Exonerate persons wrongly accused of crimes
- Identify crime and catastrophe victims
- Establish paternity and other family relationships
- Identify endangered and protected species as an aid to wildlife officials (could be
used for prosecuting poachers)
- Detect bacteria and other organisms that may pollute air, water, soil, and food
- Match organ donors with recipients in transplant programs
- Determine pedigree for seed or livestock breeds
- Authenticate consumables such as caviar and wine
To identify individuals, forensic scientists scan about 10 DNA regions that
vary from person to person and use the data to create a DNA profile of that
individual (sometimes called a DNA fingerprint). There is an extremely small
chance that another person has the same DNA profile for a particular set of
For more information, see the DNA
Agriculture, Livestock Breeding, and Bioprocessing
Understanding plant and animal genomes will allow us to create stronger, more disease-resistant
plants and animals --reducing the costs of agriculture and providing consumers with more
nutritious, pesticide-free foods. Already growers are using bioengineered seeds to grow insect-
and drought-resistant crops that require little or no pesticide. Farmers have been able to
increase outputs and reduce waste because their crops and herds are healthier.
- Disease-, insect-, and drought-resistant crops
- Healthier, more productive, disease-resistant farm animals
- More nutritious produce
- Edible vaccines incorporated into food products
- New environmental cleanup uses for plants like tobacco
Alternate uses for crops such as tobacco have been found. One researcher has genetically
engineered tobacco plants in his laboratory to produce a bacterial enzyme that breaks down
explosives such as TNT and dinitroglycerin. Waste that would take centuries to break down in
the soil can be cleaned up by simply growing these special plants in the polluted area.
For more information, see the Access Excellence Website's Biotech Applied page.