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Page last update: 25/12/2008

Life Sciences, Genomics and Biotechnology for Health: Charting new medical waters

The breakthrough sequencing of the human genome has opened up a wealth of potential medical possibilities. However, scientists are still only at the tip of the genetic iceberg. To keep Europe at the cutting edge of this pioneering new field, the European Commission has made integrated ‘post-genomic’ research a top priority in its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

It took scientists using the latest state-of-the-art technology just a decade to sequence the more than 3 billion nucleotide ‘letters’ – our bodies’ most basic building blocks – which make up the human DNA macromolecule. Since that revolutionary achievement at the end of 2000, scientists have turned their attention to using this genetic ‘blueprint’ to devise new medical advances.
Researchers hope that the extensive data we now possess about our genetic makeup will help them glean a better understanding of how our bodies work and shed light on the nature of certain major diseases. This, they hope, will help improve public health and, one day, lead to the discovery of effective ways of combating diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other serious illnesses.

‘Post-genomic’ detective work
Now that the complete genome has been decoded, scientists across Europe are turning to the long and complex task of meticulously studying particular sequences. This is the emerging ‘post-genomic’ approach.
Post-genomics has already overturned some accepted ideas and provided unexpected insights into the fundamental mechanisms of life. We now know that, like humble yeast, a mere 30000 genes, not hundreds of millions as was once thought, govern our bodies.
This has led scientists to the conclusion that identifying genes is only the tip of the iceberg. The real key lies in the incredible way that the hundreds of thousands of proteins in our bodies are manufactured, giving birth to the new spin-off science of ‘proteomics’.

Top priority
The international collaboration that made the genome-sequencing project possible highlighted the importance of trans-national research, particularly in areas of advanced science. One key focus of FP6 is the integration of research capacities across Europe for optimum results. This involves setting up effective communications and co-ordination between research bodies and enhancing the co-operation between public and private research facilities.
FP6 has set aside over €2 billion to assist in this massive scientific endeavour with the aim of improving public health and making Europe a global leader in the biotech industry – a vital pillar of the knowledge-based economy.

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Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top