Understanding The Book Of Life (1/3) - Cracking The Code episode 7





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Published on Jul 1, 2009

Medicinema Ltd.
From the award winning science teaching series CRACKING THE CODE: The Continuing Saga of Genetics - 9 half hour films that cover the history and basic concepts of genetics - from Aristotle and Mendel through to the new DNA-based world of genomics and GM crops - in a fresh and entertaining style.
Featuring original songs by Moxy Früvous
Produced, written and directed by Jack Micay
Major sponsor - The National Science Foundation

Episode 7 - Understanding The Book Of Life

Reading the Book of Life was just the first step. The ultimate goal is to understand how it works. We are guided towards this new genetic horizon by Francis Collins and Craig Venter, the leaders of the two competing teams that first sequenced the human genome. The initial task is to separate out the genes from the other 98% or so of the genome that doesnt code for proteins, no easy feat since the genes themselves are split into even smaller bits (exons), which are also surrounded by DNA noise. Three different gene finding techniques are explained. One method uses an RNA message to tag the gene that produced it. Another makes use of the codons that act as start and stop signals for the machinery of transcription. Still another method exploits the striking similarity between many of our genes and those of other creatures.

The next task is to work out the function of the proteins produced by these genes. Since many different proteins can be derived from the same gene, this a daunting long term project. Protein function is studied using experimental techniques such as site-directed mutagenesis, which is explained by its inventor, Canadian Nobel laureate Michael Smith. The holy grail of genomics is to program computers to predict the function of a protein from the sequence of its gene - still a distant goal. Another challenge will be to work out which genes act together in networks to produce a complex trait. A key tool in uncovering these networks is the gene chip, which is explained in a visual, easy to understand way.

Small variations in our DNA play a crucial role in disease. The most important human diseases are caused by combinations of variant genes, interacting with environmental and lifestyle factors. These variant networks are far more difficult to track down than the single mutations that cause classic genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis. One way around this problem is to study isolated populations with a high incidence of a particular disease. One such group is the Cochin Jews of Israel, who suffer from a very high rate of asthma. The end result will be a new kind of medicine, based on genetic testing and prevention rather than after- the-fact diagnosis and treatment. This episode also features John Sulston, Eric Lander, Sydney Brenner and Joshua Lederberg. 30 minutes.


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