The December 17 issue of Science includes a special feature called “Insights of the Decade” and two of them feature work done by DOE JGI researchers. (Note: Free registration is required to read the articles online.)
Genome research features prominently in Science’s Insights of the Decade list.
(DNA helix image by DS from Flickr via Creative Commons license)
One key insight recognized involved stretches of so-called “junk DNA,” conserved sequences that had no immediately obvious associated functions. “The scope of this ‘dark genome’ became apparent in 2001, when the human genome was first published,” noted Science, but understanding the sequences had to wait until the mouse genome was sequenced in 2002.
DOE JGI’s Director Eddy Rubin and Genomic Technologies Program head Len Pennacchio were among the researchers who were instrumental in determining that these sequences actually contain regulatory DNA that function while physically removed from the associated genes.
Another key insight involves the Human Microbiome Project, which was launched in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health. Genomes of nearly 1,000 microbial species found in the human body are being sequenced to understand how they influence human health and disease, and the data is being maintained in an online catalog overseen by DOE JGI’s Associate Director and CIO Victor Markowitz and Metagenome Program and Genome Biology head Nikos Kyrpides.
“Viewing the human and its microbial and viral components as intimately intertwined has broad implications,” Science noted in its feature. “As one immunologist put it, such a shift ‘is not dissimilar philosophically from the recognition that the Earth is not the center of the solar system.’”