New test offers speedy reading of genetic makeup
American scientists have ushered in an era of personalised genetics
by reading an individual's entire genetic makeup in record time.
Researchers used a new technique called DNA barcoding to scan six
feetof unravelled genetic material plucked from a single cell of a
donor in twoweeks. The multimillion-dollar Human Genome Project, which
produced thefirst draft of the human genetic code in 2000, took three
The feat marks the beginning of a dramatic shift in medicine that
willallow people to gaze upon the 6bn letters that form their unique
biologicalblueprint for the first time.
David Schwartz, a professor of genetics at the University of
Wisconsin,Madison, will describe the research at the Human Genome
meeting in Helsinkitomorrow (JUNE3). Within three years, he believes
his lab will have a testcapable of reading an entire genome within an
hour for less than $100.
Researchers believe that individualised genetic printouts will
radicallyimprove patients' lives by allowing doctors to give them
personalisedadvice on their diets, lifestyles and medical check-ups.
Amid the strings of Gs, Ts, Cs and As that make up a human genome
aresequences that reveal not just the colour of our eyes and hair, but
wherewe came from and what chance we have of developing an endless
variety ofdiseases and mental impairments. But Dr Schwartz admitted
patients wouldneed counselling before they are shown the genetic hand
they have beendealt.
``Some of this information is going to be hard to hear, but doctors
willhave to interpret it in such a way that they can advise patients on
therisks they face without them feeling condemned to a heart attack
orAlzheimer's,'' he said.
By making genetic tests cheap and easily available, scientists hope
tobuild unprecedented databases of genetic information that will
revealprecisely the effects of specific genes not just on diseases, but
onpersonal traits such as character and behaviour.
But moves to use genetic information from individuals could face
stiffopposition from groups who fear the information could fall into
the wronghands. ``The individual must have as much control over this
information aspossible. We don't want to see it abused in any way, for
example byinsurance companies,'' Dr Schwartz said.
To read a whole genome, Dr Schwartz plucks strands of DNA from a
celland stretches them out on a sheet. He then squirts on an enzyme
that cutsthe DNA whenever it encounters a specific sequence of letters.
Studying thebarcode-like pattern produced by the cuts helps identify
which letters, orDNA bases, are where.
Dr Schwartz's team produced six complete genome sequences using
cellsfrom six different people which had been donated anonymously.