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Man’s past told with an alphabet of 4 letters

Hidden in this 3 billion letter text are the genes which are important for our cells to develop, to function and to multiply. In a nutshell: genes are necessary for life. The whole point of sequencing the human genome is to establish the succession of letters so that the underlying messages can be deciphered.

Why sequence the human genome?

Understanding the information which is held within our genome will not only help to shed light on how life is made but will also help to predict illnesses and design new drugs. Currently, we are only at the very beginning of its elucidation.

The role of bioinformatics

Current sequencing techniques can only determine short sequences of 35 to 400 letters at a time. And the human genome has 3 billion… In order to restore the complete text, these short sequences have to be placed end to end – and it is no small feat. To do this, scientists use high performance bioinformatics tools. The assembled sequences are then stored in databanks, and made available via the internet.

Why sequence other genomes?

Understanding the information held in the genomes of other organisms – from bacteria to plants – allows scientists not only to discover more fascinating aspects of biology, but also to imagine possible applications in the fields of medicine or agriculture, for example.  

And in 2013?

The genomes of more than 20’000 organisms have been sequenced or are in the course of being sequenced! Thanks to advances in technology, a person’s genome can be sequenced in less than a week!

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