Gene mapping key to unlocking human secrets, says geneticist

COLLEGE STATION, May 23, 2003 Community, Identity, Stability, describe the Brave New World conceived by Aldous Huxley in 1932, but today we stand on the brink of a brave new world characterized by the possibilities contained inside a double helix. Recent technological advances in human and animal genetics have led to sequencing the human genome, mapping the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus and in the near future, the release of the completed bovine genetic code.

Dr. James E. Womack, who holds the rank of Distinguished Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University, has spent 22 years in cattle genetics analyzing comparative maps that allow him to use the human genome as a rough key to unlocking the cattle code.

One of the great things of working with a species like cattle is that we have the human model to follow, Womack said. Weve had to develop a few new technologies specific to cattle, particularly in the statistical analysis and the breeding structure of families but as far as laboratory bench technologies, weve pretty much followed the lead of human genetics.

When Womack began studying the bovine genome, he was comparing the human and mouse genomes and trying to understand the evolutionary events that might have made our genomes different. In 1982, he decided it was necessary to add a third group to the equation that didnt consist of primates or rodents, and being from Texas, it was logical to choose the bovine.

Cattle have been difficult to map because, like humans, they breed slow and do not produce large numbers of offspring. But the technologies developed for humans were generally applicable to cattle as well, Womack said.

Genetic mapping is an attempt to find mileposts along the genome of a particular organism. The genome is the total genetic material contained in every cell of a species and the DNA that makes up the genome serves as coding for a particular animal. Dete

Contact: Diane Oswald
Texas A&M University

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