The masses of sequencing information that now confront genomic scientists raise a huge question: Exactly what do the products of these genes do? About 30 genomes have been completely sequenced, and up to 100 will be done by year's end, perhaps including a roughly finished sequence of humankind's 100,000 or more genes. Sequence data can identify gene products involved in disease, but the challenge facing researchers is far broader than that. Somehow, they must characterize the biochemical functions of all proteins.

Prominent American and international scientists considered this problem during a Jan. 11-15 meeting in San Diego titled "Quantitative Challenges in the Post-Genomic Sequence Era." Their discussions revealed a consensus taking shape on how to proceed, despite an awareness that the scope and complexity of the task defy a fully systematic approach.

Speakers agreed that examining the three-dimensional (3-D) structure of gene products is a promising way to deduce function....

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