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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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The Next Wave
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Fall 2004
ACT II
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The sequencing of the genomes of humans and many other species is showing us that humans are far more similar to other forms of life — not only to other mammals and vertebrates, but to all life, including plants and bacteria — than had been previously appreciated.

Relationship of humans to other life on Earth: Copernicus argued that the Earth was not the center of the solar system, and Galileo carried out the astronomical observations that confirmed that the Earth with the other planets rotated around the Sun, and not vice versa. The sequencing of the genomes of humans and many other species is showing us that humans are far more similar to other forms of life — not only to other mammals and vertebrates, but to all life, including plants and bacteria — than had been previously appreciated. A family of genes involved in organization of the body plan in fruit flies, for example, is structured and activated similarly to that for humans. We have drawn an analogy with the earlier change in thinking about our solar system and have referred to this as “the Copernican revolution in biology.” The consequence of this evolution in our thinking is that we can extrapolate from observations in other organisms to improve our understanding of human development and disease. This allows us, for example, to insert or delete genes in mice to mimic human disease and to test potentially relevant therapies. Similarly, we can create human-disease models in fruit flies and bacteria. It also suggests that the vast number of species on Earth represent more a matrix than a hierarchy, with humans embedded within that matrix rather than having a unique central role within biology. We can only hope that a better understanding of our position in the matrixed biosphere will also provide us with a deeper sense of responsibility for the other forms of life with which we coexist.

Direct-to-consumer marketing of genetic testing: An increasing number of genetic tests are being marketed directly to consumers by way of the Internet. The claims of some of these advertisements are spurious — for example, gene profiling prior to recommending nutritional supplements or skin-care products. Even for those claims that are firmly fact-based, the interpretation of the results of the testing may be quite complex and difficult.

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