Saturday, October 30, 2010

Number of Genes In Humans

Steven Salzberg of the University of Maryland on October 11 during the keynote address at the Beyond the Genome Conference in Boston noted that Humans have some where between 22,000 and 23,000 genes. Chickens have 16,736 and grapes have around 30,434. The exact number is still being figured out. A decade after the human genome project this may sound goofy, but it is not. The genome project just determined how many bases there are. Genes are a little more complicated. Most of the bases in our genome code for what is called junk by scientists. That junk is old nonfunctional gene fossils, old virus's from our past and other "junk". Actual functioning genes have to be determined by determining the what RNA is functional and produces proteins and then work backwards. This takes time and is usually done the old fashion way by hand and the human brain. Albeit there is help from computers, but surprisingly not that much. So the miracle cures that everyone thought would be forthcoming are still off in the future. We first have to determine what all those bases code for and that is being worked out now. One thing I find fascinating is that we humans consider ourselves to be the pinnacle of creation. What science is doing, first with Copernicus, then with finding that our sun isn't the center of the universe, then with Darwin putting our place among the other animals and indeed cousins with the apes. Is that even our genome isn't all that special, we are just ordinary beings on an ordinary rock, around an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy, one of many galaxies of an ordinary galaxy cluster. Our only clear difference is that we humans are maybe the first and only ones we know so far that can determine the rules of the universe and change the environment of our nest. We may in the future find out that we are just one type of ordinary creature that can even do that.
Skeptical DoDo

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