Message in a Genome
As scientists tease out the human genome's secrets, it's easy to seize on our genetic differences, which are small and often inconclusive. But the surprising ancestral connections that our DNA reveals are the big story in the post-genome world.
A century and a half ago, an Austrian priest conducted an elegant set of experiments that eventually led a grudging world into the first genetics revolution. With a garden of nearly 30,000 pea plants, and meticulous persistence, Gregor Mendel developed the modern concept of the gene. His idea was simple: Observable plant traits, such as stem size or seed coat color, were passed from generation to generation in heritable units called genes. A hundred years passed before it was discovered that individual genes were the instructions for manufacturing proteins. Proteins, along with other molecules in the cell, produce the traits we see in living things every day. In humans, they’re responsible for that bald spot we wish we didn’t have and the artistic ability we wish we did.
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Matthew Stremlau is a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. State Department. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University.more from this author >>