Research and Development

The final results of the human genome project indicate that we humans are not as complicated as we thought we were. Rather than consisting of the approximately 100,000 genes that were initially predicted, it appears that we have only 30,000 genes, more but less than twice as many as the humble roundworm with its 19,098 genes.1 This finding is important for many reasons. From our perspective, there is an important economic aspect to this result. It is well understood that genes are a crucial factor in predicting and curing many diseases. Therefore, identifying and understanding the workings of each gene could lead to the creation of a new family of custom-made drugs. The rough equation quoted by the pharmaceutical companies was “one gene, one patent, one drug.”2 If, as initially expected, there were 100,000 genes then there was potentially a vast number of revenue-generating patents. The finding that the actual number of genes is far less than 100,000 has suggested to many that genes hold many fewer of the keys to the treatment of disease. As a result, understanding genes and their functions may offer a much less lucrative source of new patentable treatments.

However, all is not lost. It is being suggested that much of human biology is determined at the protein level rather than at the DNA level, and we have well over 1,000,000 different proteins in our bodies. So now we have a whole new science, proteomics—studying how genes control proteins—as a method ...

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