Human genome project

May 25, 2000

Members of Temple University's science faculty are available to discuss today's announcement by scientists that a rough draft of the genome map of the human genetic code had been assembled.

"This is the major breakthrough since the discovery of DNA in the early 1950s," says Dr. Kamel Khalili, professor and director of Temple's Center for Neurovirology and Cancer Biology. "The outcome of this is going to revolutionize the basic and clinical sciences."

Khalili says that having the genes sequenced will allow researchers studying the causes of disease to test their theories by comparing genes identified in the disease stage with normal, healthy genes.

"Over the past 15 years, we have cloned and identified a number of genes from the brain which we thought were important for a particular disease," says Khalili. "Now, with this information, we can go back and put our information in the context of the information from the human genome project and see whether the identified gene is associated with the disease."

Khalili expects researchers will have access to the government's information from the project within six months.

Reach Dr. Khalili at his office, 215/204-0678.

Dr. Joel Sheffield, professor and chair of Temple's biology department, says when the genome project information is coupled with what has been done on other species, two important themes emerge.

"The first is that all life on earth seems to use a similar genetic code," he says. "Interestingly, the genes are not exactly the same, but are closely enough related to identify them. It is this lack of perfect identity that provides such strong support for evolutionary theory."

He adds that scientists are now able to identify the genes in other species, such as fruit flies, figure out their function, then look at humans for similar genes to see if they play a similar role.

"This has profoundly enriched our understanding of how organisms are built," Sheffield says.

Reach Dr. Sheffield through the Office of News and Media Relations, 215/204-7476.

Temple University

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