Genomics and Human Ecology

Article excerpt

As we all heard, the Human Genome Project and the Celera Group published the working draft of the human genome in February this year. Barbara R. Jasny and Donald Kennedy described the accomplishment in terms of what we can now learn about ourselves: "Humanity has been given a great gift. With the completion of the human genome sequence, we have received a powerful tool for unlocking the secrets of our genetic heritage and for finding our place among the other participants in the adventure of life." [1] Already genomics has revolutionized biology and bridged the physical and life sciences. Massive amounts of data available through genomic study require new ways of understanding these data and are driving the development of computational biology.

What lies ahead is understanding the functions of our genes--or functional genomics. We have been surprised to learn that humans have fewer genes than we thought and that our genes can code for more than one protein. More surprises are undoubtedly ahead. Virtually every aspect of our lives--our health, treatment of disease, development, aging, learning, and other behaviors--will feel the impact of the discoveries ahead.

You can understand the excitement here at Cornell about the campuswide Genomics Initiative. Plant genomics has already led to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) engineered for improved production, nutrition, or health benefits. Even though GMOs are controversial, futurists predict that such GMOs will be accepted in the next decade and that farmers in the future will be genetic engineers, producing food and vaccines.

Yet many questions and concerns remain. …