An international group of scholars and researchers gathered at Columbia on October 16 and 17 to explore the remarkable birth, astounding impact, and puzzling future of genetics. Produced by Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures, this online Web archive features chapterized video, speakers' slides, related resources, conference transcripts, and an executive summary.

Genetic Revolutions

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.

Speakers

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.

Program Schedule
View the timetable for the conference.

Executive Summary
Read the highlights of the conference.

Video Archive
View video highlights of the symposium, including slides and transcripts from conference participants.

Related Resources
View additional online learning resources.
Conference Transcript
View the full text of the conference proceedings (PDF).
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