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Technology Discussion—Genes and DNA, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The study of genes, as a resource for the commercial development of new drugs, received a significant boost from computer technology in the late 1970s.  Frederick Sanger, a chemist, and Walter Gilbert, a biochemist, developed what is known as DNA sequencing technology, receiving a Nobel Prize in 1980 for their effort.  In the same way that computer technology enabled the rapid growth of the internet industry, computerization has been the catalyst for the booming biotech industry.  For example, Sanger and Gilbert’s computerized DNA sequencing technology enables scientists to collect massive amounts of data on human genes at high speed, analyzing how certain genes are connected with specific diseases.  Using this technology, the gene responsible for Parkinson’s disease was mapped in only nine days—a stark contrast to the nine years required to determine the gene connected with cystic fibrosis using traditional methods.  Genomics, the mapping and analysis of genes and their uses, is the basic building block of the biopharmaceuticals business.  Pharmacogenomics is the study of genomics for the purpose of creating new pharmaceuticals.
Genes are made up of DNA and reside on densely packed fibers called chromosomes.  The genetic information encoded in a gene is copied into RNA (ribonucleic acid—closely related to DNA) and then used to assemble proteins.  Think of DNA as a blueprint and RNA as the builder.
The human body contains about 75 trillion cells.  Each cell contains 46 chromosomes, arranged in 23 pairs.  Each chromosome is a strand of DNA.  Each strand of DNA is composed of thousands of segments representing different genes.  The sum total of the DNA contained in all 46 chromosomes is called the human genome.  The number of protein-coding genes appears to be a surprisingly small 23,000.

Internet Research Tip: DNA
 
SPOTLIGHT:  BGI
BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, is a genomics research operation headed by Yang Huangming, who was a major player in the Human Genome Project.  Dr. Yang’s plans for BGI are global in scope, including labs in Hong Kong, North America and Europe.  Yang’s research plans are also extremely ambitious.  BGI’s goal is to build a vast library of DNA data covering millions of people.  The organization sees this data as a launching pad for advanced genetic research and development, including important new drug discoveries. 
This focus on building a strategic database has attracted important funding and partnerships from outside China, including the Gates Foundation and Silicon Valley venture capital leaders.  As a result, BGI has been able to build a staff of more than 2,000 PhDs.  The institute has also been able to acquire a leading U.S. DNA sequencing technology company, Complete Genomics, based in Mountain View, California.  See www.genomics.cn.


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