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Annual Genetics Symposium Looks to Future

GENETICISTS WORKING on the Human Genome Project have sequenced just 2 percent of the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up our genetic code. Yet, many are already looking ahead to what’s next – namely, what scientists will do once they’ve mapped out all of the human genes.

On Friday, Jan. 23, USC and visiting scholars will convene at the second annual Institute for Genetic Medicine (IGM) symposium, “Genomic Genetics,” to explore what forms post-Genome Project research may take.

Nobel Prize-winning biologist David Baltimore, now president of Caltech in Pasadena, will begin the day-long conference with a keynote speech entitled “Cell Life and Cell Death.” In subsequent presentations, some of the nation’s leading geneticists will speak about their gene studies on a wide range of living things, from bacteria and yeast to plants, mice and humans.

“One never knows where the next major insight will come from,” said Larry Kedes, director of the IGM and chair of biochemistry and molecular biology. “The study of fruit flies and mice have certainly led to many important discoveries for human disease and medical therapies – contributing as much as, if not more than, similar studies on humans.”

Symposium organizer Juergen Reichardt, IGM assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, hopes attendees will get a glimpse of coming trends in human genetics, gleaning wisdom from current research on organisms with much shorter genetic codes whose entire genomes have already been sequenced, such as the common bacterium Escherichia coli and Baker’s yeast, Saccharo-myces cerevisiae.

“In the future, human geneticists will need to think genomically, rather than thinking about one gene at a time,” Reichardt said. “Complex human traits are clearly determined by multiple genes – and most probably by other factors, such as environmental ones. In these cases a genomic approach is more appropriate.”

Based on what’s happened with E. coli and yeast, two of the first goals will be figuring out the function of the genes that have been sequenced and applying that information in the clinic.

Speakers include: David Bram-hill, a biochemist at Merck Research Laboratories in Rahway, N.J., on how having the complete E. coli genome in hand has led to innovation in drug development; and Yale University biologist Michael Snyder on his research on the yeast genome, which is the first fully sequenced genome of an organism with nucleated, or eukaryotic, cells like our own.

In addition, Elliot Meyerowitz, a biologist at Caltech who studies Arabidopsis plants, the “fruit fly” of plant genetics, will touch on what can be learned about evolution by studying genetics; the scientific presentations will feature Nancy Jenkins, who heads up the molecular genetics of development section at the National Cancer Institute’s Frederick Cancer Center in Maryland; University of Iowa researcher Val Sheffield will speak on hunting for disease genes in the human genome; and Huntington Willard, of Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, will speak on artificial human chromosomes, which researchers may one day use for gene therapy.

“Having access to the human genome will revolutionize genetics,” Reichardt said.

The free symposium is sponsored, in part, by the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust and starts at 9 a.m. in the Mayer Auditorium. The event is open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Starting at 5 p.m., IGM will host an open house in its new, gene-themed space in the IGM Building (at 2250 Alcazar St.; parking free after 5 p.m.), where visitors may eat, drink and think genomic.

Annual Genetics Symposium Looks to Future

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