Comprehensive coverage

How to decipher the secrets of life

To promote genomic research in Israel, a national effort is needed

By Danny Zamir
The force currently driving biological research and the life science industries (biotechnology) is genomics, which reveals the complete genetic code of living beings. The whole genome sequence can be likened to a book. Until recently, the scientists could no longer read individual letters from it, but now it is possible to read the entire sequence and even decipher words in it. Advances in the field of genomics will enable a more comprehensive understanding of the North in the book at the level of the contexts of sentences, paragraphs, chapters and even above that. This parable illustrates the power of the new dimension that opens before us to decipher one of the mysteries of life.

The Human Genome Project, which aims to determine the complete human DNA sequence, is nearing completion. Decoding the genomes of many other organisms has already been completed. Now we face the challenge of developing laboratory and computing capacity to decipher the biological meaning of what is encoded in the genome code and to utilize the knowledge for biotechnological developments. The life sciences industries are engaged in the utilization of genomic knowledge for drug design, diagnostic tools for public health and preventive medicine, agricultural products, dedicated computing means and the application of biological knowledge for the development of the computers of the future. These industries, the high-tech of the 21st century, are expanding rapidly and the market is expected to grow to 200 billion dollars by the end of the decade.

In Israel, genomic research and its application in the life sciences industries is in its infancy, and therefore it makes a lot of sense to mobilize a national effort for the joint promotion of this complex subject. Scientists from various research institutions in Israel and industry representatives formulated a detailed proposal a year ago to launch a national genome program, which combines under one umbrella all the elements of the new era: training personnel, initiating research, establishing a technological infrastructure, commercializing knowledge and maintaining international relations.

The program will be headed by a business planning administration, which will be a "super-ministerial" body that will steer the project in research, business entrepreneurship and relations with industries and research institutions in the world. In this framework, a national infrastructure in genomic technologies will be established, which will provide high-quality and inexpensive laboratory and computing services to industry and research institutions. Consolidation of this effort is necessary since the new technologies, which are uniform for all flora and fauna, are expensive to set up and operate on a regular basis, require great skill, and there is no point in each research body establishing them independently.

The heart of the initiative are research programs that will be implemented by scientists at research institutions in the industry in all areas of genomics: computational biology, biotechnology in medicine, agriculture, environmental sciences and the development of the computers of the future. The researches will be carried out by teams of biologists and computer experts and will be evaluated in terms of scientific excellence. The contribution of the research institutions to the genome program will be in the accelerated allocation of resources for the absorption of young scientists, who will set in motion the wheels of research and development, the teaching and the training of manpower in the new field.

Israel's entry into the age of genomics depends on the ability of the various government ministries, research institutions and industry to cooperate and march us into a golden age of discoveries that will deepen our understanding of the life sciences and improve the quality of our lives. The proposed plan outlines a vision for Israeli genomic research, the success of which depends on our ability to focus effort through a national initiative.

Prof. Zamir teaches at the Faculty of Agriculture at the Hebrew University
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 1/8/2000}

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.