The Ongoing Revolution in Genetics

Led by Kurt W. Fischer

The world of genetics has been turned on its head. Suddenly what we thought we knew about how DNA and genes work has changed dramatically, with the result that genes and environment can no longer be set up as opposites. The new message is that Nature (genetics) works through Nurture (environment). The revolution came to full force when scientists analyzed the human genome (all the DNA in a human cell) and found that only a small proportion (about 1.5%) is made up of genes. People had believed that it was mostly genes. Now scientists are scrambling to figure out what most of the rest of the DNA (98.5%) does, how it affects who we are. One clear conclusion, for example, is that a gene or a segment of DNA varies in how much it is activated and in what way. Unpacking the human genome has taught us that we do not yet know much about how DNA shapes who we become and that the processes are much more active and dynamic than people (and scientists) have believed.