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Too Soon for Disappointment


Global warming. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Economic disaster in the US and Europe. That unpronounceable volcano that kept spewing ash in Iceland last year.

I am, of course, referring to problems that have not been solved by having the human genome sequence. Other things I like to blame on the Human Genome Project: rising property taxes, the endless construction in front of my office, and hair-frizzing humidity.

All of which we really expected the human genome sequence to solve, or at least it seems that we did based on the invective being tossed around lately. As mainstream media give us stories with titles like "The Failure of the Genome" — and with some scientists piling on as well — it has started to feel like the 10th anniversary of the human genome is serving primarily as a convenient excuse for people to give this achievement a serious shellacking.

To be sure, a lot of promises were made during the human genome sequence hullabaloo — and a lot of them were pure hype, so it's fair to call those out. (Remember the death of pharma in 2002? How about the disease-ending promise of RNAi, circa 2003?)

But that's not what this latest round of mudslinging is about. These critics are rewriting history, arguing that the major goal of the project was to cure common diseases. (And, evidently, in less than 10 years.) That, however, was just one of many long-term goals, which included elucidating the underlying biology of what makes us human, figuring out what causes a host of rare diseases, and getting a handle on genetic variation.

Anyone who can look back at the last decade of genomics research and not find inspiring stories directly tied to having the human genome sequence must be willfully ignorant. In the spirit of highlighting what has been accomplished, I offer here a handful of my favorite post-HGP advances. These are in no particular order, and space constraints force me to exclude any number of excellent projects and findings. My goal is simply to get the conversation started, and I hope you'll continue by sharing with me and each other your favorite achievements from the past decade.

Cancer genomes: Washington University's recent work sequencing 50 tumor/normal pairs for a breast cancer clinical trial is just the latest in a round of truly impressive, high-throughput cancer genome sequencing.

HAR1: Katie Pollard and David Haussler turned heads in 2006 with this RNA gene, found through a comparison of the chimp and human genomes to have highly mutated since humans and chimps diverged.

GINA: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act was finally passed by the US Congress in 2008. It's an essential piece of legislation that would never have made it into law without the human genome sequence to show the importance of genetic privacy in the coming years.

Allen Human Brain Atlas: After cutting their teeth on a genomic-based mouse brain atlas, scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science applied their expertise to the human brain. As of this year, they have released gene expression and histological data from 1,000 sites in two human brains.

Kibra: In 2006, Dietrich Stephan and his colleagues at TGen used genome-wide associations to link the Kibra gene to memory performance. They showed in a model system that memory could be restored.

Personal Genome Project: Love it or hate it, George Church's PGP got genome sequencing in front of the public, and will be remembered as a pioneering approach to getting a mainstream audience comfortable with the concept of DNA information.

Meredith Salisbury is editor in chief of GenomeWeb. Feel free to disagree with her at [email protected] The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Genome Technology.

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