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- The ARC - California Edition -

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A Breakthrough in Genetics?

Potentially a new plateau in genetic understanding, researchers in Minnesota seem to have triumphed where others have failed. They have successfully altered the components that genes are made of — the planks and beams of DNA. Their experiments have resulted in manipulating a single gene abnormality in rats. This achievement is being hailed by specialists in the field as being a major advancement in genetics. Next step — humans?

Progress in medicine seems to move very, very slowly at times, but we periodically recognize that some key idea had really achieved an extraordinary advance over previous knowledge. For example, about 150 years ago the botanist Gregor Mendel did some research on the PEA vegetable, and as a result, he proposed some basic laws about heredity - how genes work.

The Mendel proposal did not exactly turn the world around, as it took almost 90 more years before the biochemists Watson and Crick (through their research and that of thousands of scientists before them) finally were able to describe the molecule that carries the genetic code. These two researchers were the ones who documented the double-helix structure of DNA.

In more recent years, a whole lot of scientists have been focusing on learning how these genes really operate, with their goal being the development of a reliable method for fixing faulty genes that cause inherited diseases — like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and PKU.

Until now, success in this area has been very elusive. According to researchers, (using today’s technical language) “the majority of genetic diseases are caused by single abnormalities in the chemical bases that make up the rungs of the ‘DNA’ ladder.”

— Peter Leibert, editor —


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