Science » Technologies and discoveries
Author`s name Michael Simpson

Human Genome Finally Decoded

However, Russian scientists were not on the triumphant list
On April 14, scientists from six countries announced the completion of their epoch-making research — the decoding of the human genome. It was reported that the scientists had managed to identify the order of the 3 billion nucleotide pairs that comprise the DNA double helix that contains all a person’s genetic information. The international Human Genome Project was held in more than 20 countries. The project has been completed two years ahead of the scheduled time, which allowed for saving $300 million.

On the one hand, one might think that the completion of the project was a start of a new epoch that promises victory over diseases, human imperfection and dependence on nature's brutal game. On the other hand, nothing has changed over 20 centuries: The more we know, the further the borders of the inconceivable recede.
This discovery demonstrates the abilities humanity possesses when people come together and spend money not on fantastical, but on real and elevated goals.

The scientific world is to celebrate 50 years since the day James Watson and Francis Crick published the first article about the structure of DNA. An awkward drawing of the DNA dyad lifted the veil of nature's largest secret about the start of life. Scientists forecast 10 years ago that the genome would be completely decoded by the year 2025. Two years ago, it was supposed that the work would be completed in 2005.

Scientists have managed to decode the genomes of many microbes and multicellular organisms — from bacteria to worms and rodents. It became possible to study tens of thousands of genes, their functions and their roles in the body of a living being. Nevertheless, the knowledge scientists have obtained testifies to the fact that ambitious Man has set up an incredibly difficult goal to pursue. A man can read sheet music but not know how an orchestra plays it; he can recognize the alphabet of a foreign language but not be able to speak it. There are no doubts about that the global human intellect will be able to progress and realize a great deal. It will be possible to apply this new knowledge for the welfare of human beings: To invent new medicine, treat incurable illnesses and prevent genetic abnormalities. Such work will take a hundred years. However, will there be a place for Russian science in this endeavor?

The triumphant announcement about the complete decoding of the human genome was made by the leaders of six countries — Great Britain, Germany, China, the United States, France, and Japan — with American President George W. Bush at the head of them all. One can make fun of his outstanding intellect as much as one wants, but one has to acknowledge that American scientists did more than 50 percent of the work pertaining to the epoch-making discovery. No one recollected the fact that the project was initiated by the United States and the Soviet Union, and that the idea for it was put forward by the "father of DNA," American scientist James Watson, and Russian scientist Alexander Bayev. The science of biology in the Soviet Union was one of the world’s leaders in the middle of the 1980s. Yet, the Russian national Human Genome program, which was started in 1989, was funded less and less with every passing year, until it was basically destroyed in 2001.

One can say that Russian science will have a chance to use the results of this great victory, for the countries agreed in the very beginning that the results of the research would not be a commercial secret. However, the world has already come to the realization that the life sciences will determine the future of mankind: Biology, biomedicine, biochemistry, genetics. Yet, Russian society stands alone: The budget for Russian biology is meager even in comparison with that for the space industry, which is not experience its best times nowadays either.

There are 70 Russian scientists in the international organization for decoding the human genome (HUGO), and about 400 Russian scientists from 30 scientific institutions participated in the Human Genome program. They have published hundreds of serious articles in foreign magazines over recent years. Russian scientists and their analytical works and mathematical genome-research programs are highly valued in the world. However, the experimental equipment that Russian scientists use is shameful. Russian biology currently exists with the help of grants and is being separated from the rest of the scientific world. That is why there are no Russian scientists in the group of victors.

Professor Nikolai Yankovsky, the chief of the genome laboratory of the Genetics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences said, "The decoding of the human genome gives us a basis for developing a large number of application studies in medicine. From now on, people will be able to obtain precise instructions analyzing the genetic reasons for an illness. When genome-decoding work started 12 years ago, we knew a hundred illnesses that were caused by the malfunction of one gene. At present, we already know of 1,400 such diseases, but they make up only 5 percent of the total number of illnesses. The remaining 95 percent are multifactor illnesses, which are caused by several genes: Diabetes, cancer, ischemia, and so on. Scientists are conducting very active research in this area now. The new knowledge allows us to discover new ways of early diagnosis and correction."

Lev Kisilev, an academic of the Russia Academy of Sciences and the chief of the laboratory of the Institute of Molecular Biology said, "The decoding of the genome’s structure is the first page in a thick book of blank pages, which are supposed to be filled in in the future. We are witnessing the start of the third stage of biology — the functional biology — after Darwinian, descriptive and molecular biology. This new functional biology will affect people's lives in a direct way. However, we gave all of our biologists of the new generation to America. If they do not come back, Russian science will end. It is not a question of lack of money. People do not understand what place science occupies in their lives. I think it is absurd when someone says that we will be able to use someone else's achievements. We need qualified people for that, but there won't be any."