Brave’s new world
Take a look at the Web site of the Genome Center at UC Davis and you’ll find descriptions of work like this: “Katherine Pollard and colleagues identified 202 genome sequences that are highly conserved between chimpanzee and other vertebrates, but changed significantly in the human lineage since divergence from the chimp-human ancestor. These Human Accelerated Regions (HARs) are mostly in non-coding DNA, often nearby proteins involved in transcription. There is some evidence of positive selection in the most accelerated HARs. In addition, the human-specific changes show a strong bias for AT to GC nucleotide changes, suggesting either biased gene conversion or isochor selection. …”
I don’t have a clue. Do you? But Ralph Brave does, and in this week’s cover story, “Life itself,” he takes us inside the Genome Center, where a new breed of scientist is ushering in a transformation of the biological sciences that’s working to understand the very mysteries of life itself. He introduces us to some of the long-haired, dreadlocked, foosball-playing scientists working at the cutting edge of genomic research.
It turns out that Pollard discovered a gene that distinguishes humans from chimpanzees. Brave explains how that happened and asks her this astounding question: “Is this the gene that’s responsible for human consciousness?” Pollard’s a scientist, and she hedges. Appropriately.
But imagine the possibilities!
Through Brave we also get to know Jonathan Eisen and come to understand how his work on sequencing the genome of a bacteria that lives in the gut of an insect may ultimately save Northern California vineyards from destruction. Brave also explains how Eisen’s work on the genetic structure of other bacteria may help keep human transplants from failing.
Then we delve into synthetic biology, which may eventually—possibly within as few as 10 years—afford the ability to create novel life forms or living beings that are completely artificial.
Follow Brave into this new world, and then just sit back and imagine the possibilities. Wow. Oh my.