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Gene Hunters

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Photo of Alan and Lander
Eric Lander takes Alan through Genetics 101.

James Watson and Francis Crick's discovery of the double helix structure of DNA immediately revealed how the molecule stores and replicates genetic information. But decoding and reading that information would take another fifty years. At the Whitehead Center for Genome Research -the largest of the 16 laboratories around the world collaborating on the Human Genome Project Director Eric Lander shows Alan how it's done.

Photo of computers
 

These machines prepare 100,000 "sentences" of the Human Genome per day.

To help Alan better understand the process, Lander compares the entire genome to a book made up of three billion letters arranged in sentences. The point of the project is to discover the precise order these letters - known as A, T, C and G - appear in. At the Whitehead Center, robots help researchers with the enormous task of chopping up, sorting and decoding a hundred thousand sentences a day. Thanks to hard work and faster and faster computers, Lander and his colleagues were able to publish the first draft of the human genome in 2001. The Whitehead Center continues to pour out 50 to 60 million letters of DNA code every day, gradually filling in the details in the book of life.

For more on this topic, see the web feature:
Profile: Eric Lander
Why the Y?

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