'Genetic code could be an arsenal to fight disease'

Monday, 24 March 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Within a decade, new born babies will leave the hospital with a copy of their complete genetic code on a CD, enabling the parents to decide on lifestyle best suited to lead a healthy life.

So forecasts J. Craig Venter, the U.S. scientist who helped decode the first complete draft of the human genome.

"Knowing your genetic code could be an arsenal to fight disease," said Venter in his millennium address Saturday at the inauguration of the three-day conference 'Knowledge Millennium III: The Business of Biotechnology'.

The conference is being organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce And Industry of India (Assocham).

Inaugurated by President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, leading biotech scientists and industry players from India and overseas are attending the meet. Eighty students and an equal number of farmers from across the country have also been invited, in a bid to expose them to the developments in biotechnology.

"The genetic code could serve as a medical reference, allowing individuals to precautions well in advance," said Venter.

"The genetic code could serve as a key to taking pre-emptive action as it gives indication why one person is more at risk of having a particular disease like cancer."

According to Venter, the difference between two individuals is very little. The genetic code consists of three billion letters.

An individual's single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) - the letters of the DNA code that differ between individuals - indicate why one person is more predisposed to the risk of cancer and diabetes while others are not.

Venter believes environment factors including lifestyle increase the risk.

He is currently working on the terabyte challenge for faster and more affordable decoding of gene to help the average man benefit from the genomic medicine of the future.

"Lifestyle is part of the environment that aggravates a risk of a person having a particular disease," Venter pointed out.

"Genetic sequencing gives you the power to decide to change lifestyle to prevent the onset of a disease. Early detection of a potential risk minimises the chance by 95 percent, while late detection reduces the chances considerably."

"Our gene code is our recorded history, giving clue to the evolution of man," Venter added.

Venter heads five research NGOs working in various aspects and applications of biotechnology.

He was also very critical of the pharmaceutical companies. "A lot of them do not want to develop new vaccines and antigens to prevent a disease. Their focus continues to be drugs to treat chronic diseases."

Venter also sees great potential for exploring possibilities of sourcing cleaner energy and water through bio-products.
Source: IANS
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