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Computer revealing language of life.

Computer revealing language of life

Scientists have developed a new computer technology that speeds analysis of DNA sequences, a capability vital to identifying all 3 billion bases making up the human genome. The accomplishment will ehlp researchers working on the federally funded human genome mapping project -- a task so massive that molecular biologists often compare it to the Apollo moon landing.

Biologists urgently need faster ways to compare newly isolated DNA sequences to catalogs of known sequences in order to make progress on the project. Even with faster computing power, scientists estimate that their plan to map and sequence and entire human genome will take 15 years and cost $3 billion.

A team of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena took a computer chip designed by Cleveland, Ohio-based TRW, Inc., and adapted it to search for specific patterns of already-cataloged DNA sequences at a rate hundreds of times faster than was previously possible, even with supercomputers.

"It took one day to compare a 10,000-bit gene to the preexisting database on an advanced supercomputer," says Caltech team leader Leroy Hood. "With the new technology it took 10 minutes."

Hood, along with researchers from Applied Biosystems Inc., in Foster City, Calif., announced the new development last week at a washington, D.C., meeting on the Human Genome Initiative. The American Medical Association and the Alliance for Aging Research sponsored the meeting.

Eventually, such research will lead to better diagnostic tests for many of the 3,000 inherited illnesses that plague human-kind, Hood says. Scientists now have tests for sickle cell anemia and some other inherited disorders. They hope to develop ways to identify many other illnesses with a genetic component, such as heart disease and certain cancers.
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Publication:Science News
Date:May 6, 1989
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