February 1-3 2001

The announcement last June that scientists have successfully mapped the entire human genome both marks the end of many years of work and the beginning of what promises to be a new era in genetic research. With this enormous and fundamental task now complete (and a high-quality sequence of the human genome due by 2003), the possibilities for the practical applications of this data are seemingly endless. Thus, the time is clearly right to discuss the directions that gene research will take, as well as might and should take, in what many are calling the "biology century" that lies ahead.

The technology, resources, and data being produced today in the field of genomics research promise to have a major impact on research across the life sciences. In addition, this work seems likely to enable important innovations in every area of life, from the discovery and cultivation of new energy sources to the development of more sophisticated techniques of criminal forensics. Indeed, advances in genetic research have already begun to produce profound impacts in the field of medicine. Beyond making possible the early treatment of diseases, advances in genetic research are allowing us to foresee a day in which the augmentation or even replacement of defective genes through gene therapy are common procedures, and in which "custom drugs" are catered to the precise genetic makeup of individual patients. Overall, the work that is being done in gene research today promises to revolutionize the entire spectrum of biological research and clinical medicine.

Among the work currently contributing to the productivity of the life sciences is ground-breaking research on the causes and consequences of genetic variation. Combining new technologies and powerful theoretical models, cell biologists and human geneticists are shedding new light on the expression or regulation of genes in individual organisms and entire populations. The research findings from such work are allowing us to better understand the mechanics and patterns of gene variation in plant and insect populations, for instance, or in phenomena such as diseases typically associated with a single racial, ethnic, or religious group.

What are the most immediate developments that we may expect from the field of genetic research, and what possibilities lie further ahead? How are new findings changing the way we look at the role of genomic analysis in understanding gene function, the relation of humans to other creatures, and the future of biomedical research? What role will ethical and social considerations play in the pursuit or implementation of genetic information? Our seminar will call on biologists, geneticists, and medical ethicists to discuss the issues that will profoundly affect the course of genetic research in years ahead. Topics to be addressed may include new developments in plant cell biology; population-level variation in the Drosophilus or fruit fly; the evolution of the Y chromosome and its significance for the determination of sex; and the implications of genetic research for underprivileged groups.

Speakers will include Martin Kreitman (Department of Ecology & Evolution), Bruce Lahn (Departments of Human Genetics and Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology), Mary Mahowald (Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Assistant Director, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics), Laurens Mets (Department of Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology), and Carole Ober (Departments of Human Genetics and Obstetrics & Gynecology).