Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category


Welcome to FarSighted

January 23, 2007

For decades, geneticists and molecular biologists have promised that they would soon uncover the keys to understanding human biology. For these scientists the Human Genome Project was an exalted campaign to provide all of the raw genetic information necessary for a molecular understanding of human disease and behavior. It was thought, that after the project’s completion, it would be a simple task to identify the genes responsible for depression, breast cancer, and big noses. The HGP was to be the crowning achievement of a 400 year narrative of biological reductionism.

The first hint of trouble came when it was discovered that the human genome contained only 20-30,000 genes. Less than a third of the original estimate of 100,000 genes, this low number of genes demolished the One Gene:One Protein theory. The practical consequence of this is that it was proven that most genes were needed to perform different functions at different times. This finding proved prophetic as it was discovered that most diseases and traits are not mendelian but rather complex traits, determined by interactions of multiple genes (in fact some claim that there is no souch thing as a non-complex trait). For obvious reasons it is much harder to uncover the genetic components of a complex trait than a mendelian one. More recently the ‘story’ has been further complicated by the discovery that gene regulation and non-protein coding genes play much bigger parts in gene fuction than previously thought.
Increasingly, it seems that integrating discoveries from nascent fields such as epigenetics and functional genomics will require a fundamental recasting of our approach to biology. Since the time of Descartes, western science has been dominated by the impulse to break problems down into “by dividing them into smaller, simpler, and thus more tractable units (1). In biology this has manifested itself as a search for the individual factors responsible for a higher order phenomena. While this philosophy has been wildly successful until now, it is inadequate for describing the complex interactions between genes, epigenetic systems, and the medley of proteins and RNAs in the cellular environment, that combine to respond to every environmental input into the cell. A new holistic, systems-based approach will be neccessary to fully understand the implications of epigenetics and functional genomics.

Far from being the final frontier of molecular biology, genetics has proven to be a launching point for a new age of exploration. In this blog we will chronicle this stage in the quest for understanding of molecular biology. We will keep tabs on progress from the incipient stages of research into epigenetics and the development of next-generation genetic technologies. We will also pay close attention to how these developments affect the future of medicine and psychiatry.

Farsighted should be navigated by selecting the “Page” of interest and following the links from there.

Disclaimer: much of the writing in this blog is speculative. I am not a recognized expert on any of it. Furthermore, as suggested by the title of the blog, my interest in these areas is somewhat far-sighted ie, my presentation of the present may be inaccurate.