Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), describes DNA as the “language of life”. It’s a language written in a cryptic, simple four-letter biochemical alphabet. The NIH has spent millions to record, or write down the code in books, a.k.a. genomes. Volumes with titles as exciting as “Human”, “Mouse”, and more recently “Owl monkey” have been release over the last 20 years. Reading those books is the next major challenge of biology.
In December of 2020, code breakers announced they had finally deciphered a message left 51 years earlier by the Zodiac Killer. Some find it astonishing that it took years to decode this one message. The time commitment necessary to crack the Zodiac’s cipher is just a fraction of what it will take to crack the code of life.
Deciphering the human genome, with all its complexity, is a far more challenging task than breaking the Zodiac’s code. Each human genome encodes massive amounts of information in billions of bases. Readout of the genome results in not only a startling diversity of cell types, tissues, and systems, but also how each cell responds to its environment. Our challenge is to decode the genome and understand how it is regulated. This challenge requires some patience and dedication devoted to the Zodiac’s message. While it is not a fast process, it is a necessary and thrilling ride. Ultimately, decoding the genome has vast implications for agriculture, ecology, and medicine.
Associate Professor in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Computer Science at University of Colorado BoulderView Slides
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