Biocode: The New Age of Genomics
Dawn Field, Neil Davies
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The living world runs on genomic software - what Dawn Field and Neil Davies call the 'biocode' - the sum of all DNA on Earth. In Biocode, they tell the story of a new age of scientific discovery: the growing global effort to read and map the biocode, and what that might mean for the future. The structure of DNA was identified in 1953, and the whole human genome was mapped by 2003. Since then the new field of genomics has mushroomed and is now operating on an industrial scale. Genomes can now be sequenced rapidly and increasingly cheaply. The genomes of large numbers of organisms from mammals to microbes, have been mapped. Getting your genome sequenced is becoming affordable for many. You too can check paternity, find out where your ancestors came from, or whether you are at risk of some diseases. Some check out the pedigree of their pets, while others turn genomes into art. A stray hair is enough to crudely reconstruct the face of the owner. From reading to constructing: the first steps to creating artificial life have already been taken.
Some may find the rapidity of developments, and the potential for misuse, alarming. But they also open up unprecedented possibilities. The ability to read DNA has changed how we view ourselves and understand our place in nature. From the largest oceans, to the insides of our guts, we are able to explore the biosphere as never before, from the genome up. Sequencing technology has made the invisible world of microbes visible, and biodiversity genomics is revealing whole new worlds within us and without. The findings are transformational: we are all ecosystems now. Already the first efforts at 'barcoding' entire ecological communities and creating 'genomic observatories' have begun. The future, the authors argue, will involve biocoding the entire planet.
the formation of Genomics England, a company set up by the Department of Health to sequence , human genomes.46 The ﬁrst , are to be completed in followed by , genomes per year thereafter. This project aims to bolster the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). One of the advantages of having a medical system that includes just about everyone in the country is the massive database it provides. As the UK’s public system bears the brunt of insuring as well as treating patients, it
are to beneﬁt from the new genetic knowledge. We have a global molecular library of DNA mirrored in the United States, Europe, and Japan. In its ﬁrst decade, it grew from almost , base pairs in , to over trillion.6 If we imagine the sequences aligned in one long strand, the resulting DNA molecule would have stretched per cent of the way to the sun in . By , it would be long enough to reach the sun and back—, times over.7 Public DNA holdings are currently doubling
genetically modiﬁed tomatoes do.’158 In an interview about his book Life at the Speed of Light, Craig Venter lamented that it was hard to communicate the promise of genomics when half of the public don’t seem to know that a tomato has DNA.159 If these rather shocking statistics reﬂect a general truth, the mainstreaming of genomics into modern culture will hopefully soon remedy such ignorance. All cells have genomes, with few exceptions. Red blood cells jettison their nuclei—the sac that holds
article ‘Three Biological Parents and a Baby’ (