MANY are predicting that the 21st century will be remembered for a revolution in biotechnology and medicine, a revolution made possible by the successful decoding of the complete human genome. In the next several years, as the locations for all of the genes that regulate life are pinpointed, huge advances may occur in the way that bioscientists and doctors develop more precise diagnostic tests, individualize drug therapies, and ameliorate and cure diseases. Gene therapy may replace current medical practices for some diseases. Work on unraveling the genomic structures of viruses and bacteria will lead to an understanding of infectious diseases and how they attack our own genetic material.
We at Lawrence Livermore are proud to be partners with Lawrence Berkeley and Los Alamos national laboratories in the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California. The institute is funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. As described in the article entitled The Joint Genome Institute: Decoding the Human Genome, employees of all three laboratories are sequencing chromosomes 5, 16, and 19, which account for about 10 percent of our DNA. The institute is one of five centers around the country working with government-supported laboratories in France, Germany, Japan, and China to develop a map of the entire human genome.
Last fall, scientists in the U.S. and England completed the sequencing of chromosome 22, and preliminary maps for other chromosomes will begin appearing soon. A working draft of the 3 billion pieces of our DNA will be complete in 2001, with final sequencing to be done in 2003. The original schedule for completion was 2005, but recent radical advances in robotics and automation have pushed sequencing production to levels that no one could have dreamed of even a few years ago.
Livermore and other Department of Energy laboratories have been using their multidisciplinary capabilities to address biomedical research issues since the 1950s. Research on the effects of radiation on humans led naturally to an examination of its effects on our genes. DNA mapping began at Livermore in the late 1980s and expanded in 1990, when the Department of Energy formed a partnership with the National Institutes of Health for the Human Genome Project, the largest biological undertaking in history. Then in 1996, the Livermore, Berkeley, and Los Alamos national laboratories joined forces in the Joint Genome Institute to maximize their sequencing capabilities in an industrial-scale production facility. Since late 1998, in efficient laboratory and robotics areas, institute personnel have been generating and analyzing the genomic sequence 24 hours a day.
After the institute completes sequencing of chromosomes 5, 16, and 19, it will study the mouse, whose DNA is amazingly similar to our own. Examination of the similarities will help considerably in defining what is important in human genetic material.
If a biological revolution indeed comes to pass, it will be because the sequencing efforts at the Joint Genome Institute and elsewhere have provided life science researchers with the infrastructure they need to make important new discoveries. In the latter half of the 20th century, basic research at the Department of Energy laboratories supplied a comparable infrastructure for physics, computations, and material science. As we move into the 21st century, Livermore and its sister laboratories will continue doing what they do best-science in the national interest.


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