The Language of Life – Francis Collins

The Language of Life by Francis Collins is a decent read. What excites me most is that Collins, currently the head of the National Institutes of Health, and previously the director of the Human Genome Project has written it. Here, we have an explanation of what was discovered with our tax dollars and why we should care.

I remember reading some scientists did not want Collins to lead the NIH, because he had written the apologetics “The Language of God”. I thought that was silly for two reasons, as scientists they should judge him by his work in the lab (evidently, it was decent enough) and not by what he does for fun. Second, one of the complaints about he Bush administration was the religious zealots were stifling scientific progress. And here was Collins, as a perfect bridge between the two cultures.

Collins had his DNA sequenced by three competing private companies, to compare results and he included some of the results in the index. This goes along with Collin’s belief that knowledge is power, and should be freely accessible. I will find it interesting to see how the future privacy-vs-protection debate plays out, and if the people will switch sides. ( “Conservatives” were ready to give up some privacy in the war on terror and the “liberals” were strongly opposed.) How should we give up our privacy, by having all of our genomes in a centralized database? Potentially, could easily see genetic causes for bad drug reactions. Potentially, genomic medicine could find the best medicines for us as individuals.

The section on how genes affect drug response was great (chapter 9). Short version …some drugs are delivered not in active form. Enzyme A must transform it to active form, where it interacts with Receptor B, and the drug is degraded by Enzyme C. If there are any genetic abnormalities with the production of A, B or C, then the drug will not have the desired effect.

Interesting stuff
•    Translocation of gene from chromosome 9 to chromosome 22 the cause of chronic myeloid leukemia. (pg 129-131)
•    1920s, Wisconsin dairy – hemorrhaging cattle, from moldy clover silage….20 years later, purified, Warfarin…1955 used by President Eisenhower.
•    William Harvey (1657), should study abnormalities… “Nature is nowhere accustomed more openly to display her secret mysteries than in the cases where she shows tracings of here workings apart from the beaten path; not is there any better way to advance the proper practice of medicine than to give our minds to the discovery of the usual law of Nature by careful investigation of cases of rare forms of diseases. For it has been found in almost all things, that what they contain of useful or applicable nature is hardly perceived unless we are deprived them, or they become deranged in some way.” (pp 228-229).


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