The discovery of the gene ushered in a scientific revolution in the twentieth century, with far-reaching implications for medicine, biology, psychology, anthropology, business, and many other disciplines. With the completion this year of the Human Genome Project and new discoveries about DNA and human biochemistry, experts say science is poised for another wave of sweeping changes, one that will challenge our assumptions about the very nature of human life.
The next genetic revolution—in which research and practical applications will meet—is fraught with difficult, puzzling questions. What will the organization of genomes reveal about the basis of human individuality? What will the complete sequence of proteins in the human body tell us about the disease process, and what new medicines will that understanding lead to?
These questions and many others were the focus of a two-day symposium titled "Genes and Genomes: Impact on Medicine and Society," which took place during the opening weekend of Columbia University's 250th anniversary. Symposium participants addressed the significance of recent genetic research and its application in a variety of disciplines. Among the participants were three Nobel Prize winners and several leaders of the Human Genome Project, as well as leading researchers and thinkers from a wide range of fields.
"Over the next 10 to 15 years, genes and genomics will dramatically reshape the treatment of disease, the field of medicine, and society itself," said Joanna Rubinstein, associate dean for institutional affairs, Columbia University Health Sciences. In planning the symposium, Rubinstein said, "Our hope is to put the groundbreaking scientific progress of recent years in context with the help of thinkers from a variety of different perspectives, including medicine, science, philosophy, human rights, and economics."
Organizing the symposium with Rubinstein was Thomas Jessell, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University's Center for Neurobiology and Behavior and a principal investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The symposium's first session, "Genes, Genomes, and Evolution," delved into the history of genes and genomes and the nature of the links among genetics, the development of organisms, their evolution, and the emergence of our species. Session two, "Genes, Genomes, and Medicine," illuminated the ways that the genomic revolution is likely to influence the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases, ranging from cancer to cardiology to abnormal human behavior. The symposium's final session, "Genes, Genomes, and Society," attempted to anticipate some of the consequences that the availability of genetic information may have on modern society, in particular on our current concepts of civilization, human individuality, and free will.
- Roy M. Anderson, PhD, Imperial College, London, UK
- Cornelia I. Bargmann, PhD, University of California, San Francisco
- Sydney Brenner, PhD, Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif.
- Michael S. Brown, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Tex.
- Isidore S. Edelman, MD, Columbia University
- Gerald D. Fischbach, MD, Columbia University
- Joseph L. Goldstein, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Tex.
- David I. Hirsch, PhD, Columbia University
- Philip Kitcher, PhD, Columbia University
- Eric S. Lander, PhD, Whitehead Institute, MIT, Cambridge, Mass.
- Michael Levine, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, Calif.
- Anne McLaren, PhD, University of Cambridge, UK
- Svante Pääbo, PhD, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
- Colin Renfrew, PhD, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, UK
- Jeffrey Sachs, PhD, Columbia University
The academic symposia of Columbia 250 have been made possible by a generous donation from the University Seminars at Columbia University. Click here to find out more about the seminars.