Transducing the Genome: Information, Anarchy and Revolution in the Biomedical Sciences

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9780071387613: Transducing the Genome: Information, Anarchy and Revolution in the Biomedical Sciences

The human genome (for the most part) has been sequenced, and we now find ourselves poised on the brink of a new era in science and in life. The enormous investment of money and effort that has been made in the HGP has brought into being a new science, the science of genomics. Going beyond the linking of genes to their expressed traits, genomics is the study of the genome as a whole. Its material is the millions of nucleotides that make up the DNA of an organism and their patterns of combination and recombination. It is fueled by the mountains of data that the HGP's gene sequencers are producing, data that can only be manipulated and understood with supercomputers. Much more than being sequenced, the genome is being transduced, that is, converted into electronic form, a digital entity. In short, genomics is an information science, and it is dragging all of biology kicking and screaming into the Information Age. Transducing the Genome is an incisive, behind-the-scenes look at this historic transformation. A geneticist whose career has placed him at the center of the action at such companies as Genentech and Incyte, Zweiger understands the business of genomics: the unique and anarchic collaboration of private, government and academic efforts in the HGP; the role of pharmaceutical companies; and the interests of investors. He gets into details of the genetics, which is much more complicated and more interesting than the search for disease genes, and which will come into full flower only now that the human sequence has been completed. He explains the many new technologies that are coming out of the HGP and gives us a glimpse into their future applications. Most importantly, Zweiger places the people, the events, and the historical forces at work within the philosophical context of information science, providing the framework within which the historic milestone of the sequencing of the human genome and the birth of genomics will be understood for years to come.

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What has made the Human Genome Project so deeply appealing? In one sense, it's just another large-scale, big-budget effort to keep a gang of nerds busy and out of trouble for a few years. Geneticist Gary Zweiger looks askance at this and explains how the confluence of information systems, big science and business (exemplified by the HGP) is actually accelerating the pace of beneficial change for all people. Transducing the Genome: Information, Anarchy and Revolution in the Biomedical Sciences draws deeply on Zweiger's experience in biological science and biotech commerce to illuminate the scientific, economic and legal issues relevant to the search for a more complete understanding of human genetics. Brimming with pro-capitalist optimism, he believes that the information revolution spawned the biotech explosion and will soon lead to better, cheaper solutions to a very broad range of health problems:

Knowledge of our internal information network will come mostly from an explosion of new genomic database analyses. A growing army of mathematicians and information scientists will develop increasingly powerful and more useful algorithms and computational processes for finding biomedical knowledge in these databases. A growing regiment of biologists and medical professionals with training in mathematics and information sciences will lead these knowledge discovery missions.

Zweiger assuages the reader's fears of gene patents with a brief foray into intellectual property law. It does seem unlikely that biotech patents will pose any more problems than standard pharmaceutical company practice. Combining scientific, legal and business expertise, Transducing the Genomeprovides the most comprehensive overview of the birth of biotech yet written. --Rob Lightner

Review:

"Gary Zweiger...provides a bracing insider's account of why gene structure matters to science and commerce. His focus is on transducing the information content of DNA into useful form. He teases out a powerful theme of genomics: its focus on methods of creating massive databases quickly." - American Scientist; "Transducing the Genome is a captivating overview of genomics. Geneticist Zweiger provides a clearly written and interesting account of the Human Genome Project, major players at the center of genome research, the origin of the genomics industry, the role of leading genomics companies, and the future prospects of the Genome Project.... This enjoyable and compelling story on genomics is har to put down." - Choice

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