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No. 136: JUL-AUG 2001

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Genome-map User Beware!

Omissions. Amid much hullabaloo, it was announced recently that the human genome has now been mapped. To everyone's surprise, we are said to be constructed from blueprints containing only about 30,000 genes. But how accurate are these maps that were drawn up so hastily in the bitterly contested race between the publically and privately sponsored programs? How good are those computer programs that identified these 30,000 or so genes?

According to W. Haseltine, who heads Human Genome Sciences, "They're reading smudged text through foggy glasses." Haseltine's company claims to have found more than 90,000 human genes. Two other organizations have identified between 60,000 and 65,000 genes. A research group at Ohio State University at Columbus analyzed the same data used by the public consortium and estimates that there are actually human 80,000 genes! In fact, this groups avers, the public consortium's software seems to have missed 850,000 gene segments for which there already exists protein or RNA evidence.

The human genome map seems to harbor many terrae incognitae. So, we best not draw profound conclusions just yet.

(Kintisch, Eli; "So What's the Score?" New Scientist, p. 16, May 12, 2001.)

Errors. The genome-mapping efforts of both the public consortium and private company (Celera) depended heavily upon computers and software. That errors may have crept into Celera's map of the human genome via their software is suggested by analysis of Celera's earlier map of the fly genome. The same "shotgun" approach was employed in both efforts. When S. Karlin, at Stanford, began using the fly genome map he spotted many errors. He has said,

More than 60 per cent of their quences were in substantial disagreements [with known sequences], and this got me a little bit angry.

(Coghlan, Andy; "Shotgun Wedding," New Scientist, p. 7, May 19, 2001.)

From Science Frontiers #136, JUL-AUG 2001. 2001 William R. Corliss

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