Executive Officer's Column.
The year 2001 may not have presented us with HAL and monoliths on the moon (not to mention moon bases and manned missions to Jupiter). But it has provided us with fantastic advances in the sciences. We are fortunate to be witnessing the beginnings of two great scientific endeavors, the birth of the science of genomics and the habitation of the International Space Station. Clearly, every year brings great new discoveries. However, these two events will likely be seen as clear starting points for what ever may follow.
Genomics has actually been with us for a few years with the sequencing of bacterial genomes (and viral genomes many years before). Nevertheless, the determination of the sequence of the human genome and the annotation of that genome as well as the impending completion of the mouse genome will allow researchers to begin to ask "big picture" questions about development, gene regulation, metabolism, disease processes, stresses. It is humbling to finally recognize that humans do not have very many more genes than a common nematode or fruit fly. What makes us more complex will be discovered as we further examine the expression and processing of our genetic messages. It is also fascinating to note that there appear to be far fewer differences among the genes of individuals than expected. Individuality may be a function of differences in control of expression of genes. These questions are now amenable to being approached because of the availability of genomic data.
Beyond humans, genomics has also given us the first complete sequence of a plant's DNA. Arabidopsis thaliana has proven to be the "white rat" of the plant world. It is a tiny plant that has big implications for understanding plant development and metabolism. Again, comparative studies using other plants will probably yield the most valuable information.
The Space Station presents a different story. Many scientists oppose spending money on what thus far is a large engineering project with only nebulous goals. In fact, the Station has sucked money away from many space science projects. Nevertheless, the Station should give researchers a new tool that will allow them to ask "what if" types of questions. Its usefulness has not yet been as clearly proven as the genome projects have been. It is worth noting that when it first became apparent that we had the ability to sequence large pieces of DNA, there was still extreme controversy over whether we should even attempt the Human Genome Project. One hopes the Station will be a similar type of endeavor. In particular life and behavioral sciences as well as space sciences should begin to reap benefits. Space plat forms have already transformed environmental sciences and the Station should further enhance this research. Science advances in both big and little steps. Genomics and the International Space Station have given us the frameworks to take giant leaps.-
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|Publication:||Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2001|
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