Exploring Human Genome
Belarusian and Russian scientists intend to develop new technologies to study human DNA
Genetic technology and human genome research have advanced rapidly. It is clear that genes lie at the heart of who we are and what we are, and therefore the interest in this area will continue growing. The role of genetics in medicine is undeniable today. It is an established fact now that all diseases (including infectious diseases, colds and even injuries) have a hereditary basis. Genetics makes its contribution to the development of forensic science. By using the PCR test it is now possible to identify an individual from the DNA traces. Belarusian and Russian scientists have rich experience in exploring the human genome. More than two years ago, when discussing the ways of further development of the domestic science, they had the idea to develop the Belarus-Russia Union State DNA Identification Program which would help solve crimes and treat diseases. Today the ministries of the two countries concerned are finalizing the program which is expected to be launched early next year. In addition to the core academic institutions (Russia’s Federal Agency for Scientific Organizations and Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences), it will involve the investigation committees of Belarus and Russia and also medical institutions. Experts believe that genetic scientists and people on the ground know how to help each other and obtain a new promising product. using biological samples collected at a crime scene is quite accurate today, sometimes there are a lot of problems. This means genetic methods should be improved. Certain progress in the area has been made by Russian forensic scientists. This success gave rise to the joint Union State program. For instance, DNA tests were conducted to investigate the terrorist attack in Domodedovo Airport in 2011. Two days were needed to identify the suicide bomber, which, in turn, helped find his accomplices. In this very case investigators were lucky as the terrorist was from the region that had already been studied by geneticists.
The Novosibirsk pedophile case is demonstrative as well. For a number of years the criminal molested girls in different districts of the city. Eyewitness accounts pointed to a man from Northern Caucasus but led the investigation nowhere. Specialists of the Tomsk Research Institute of Medical Genetics (the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences) carried out a detailed DNA profiling of the maniac. The findings revealed that the criminal came from the south of Siberia. These results helped considerably narrow the circle of suspects, and the child molester was arrested two weeks later.
However, to make it a routine, one needs to know the history of the development of a nation and to have plenty of DNA samples. For
Genes as Evidence
series of generations, and became widespread in the population. Others appeared later, and are found only in a small part of the population. So the closer kinship between two people is, the more similar their genotypes are.
The human DNA profiling technology has been well-tested and is extensively used throughout the world. It is kind of a modern standard, with a certain set of tools, reagents and techniques. Forensic scientists began using the DNAtesting method about 30 years ago. However, only five years ago we came to realize, here and abroad, that genetics could be of much bigger help to law-enforcement agencies. Although DNA profiling
Approximately 85% of human qualities are predetermined by genes (looks, character, intellectual and physical abilities, health). Accordingly, the genome of each of us contains a wealth of information and we need to learn to extract all of it for the purposes that benefit the society.
The human genome contains 3 billion nucleotides. Any two people differ at about 1 in every thousand DNA bases, or “letters”, or three million of the three billion. This is where the individual qualities of an individual come from. Some nucleotide substitutions appeared in the distant past, preserved in a
instance, it is easy to tell a Tartar from a Belarusian from the genetic point of view. Distinguishing a Russian from a Belarusian is a different story as their genotypes are very similar. The program developers will search for new genetic markers of strong ethnoterritorial features, i.e. the parts of the DNA, the variability of which maximally correlates with the ethnicity and the place of origin of a person. Once scientists know the characteristics of the population from all the regions or the majority of them, it will be possible to tell even the degree of relationship between a person and their fellow citizens. Yet, no universal genome database has been developed yet, neither in Belarus, nor in Russia, or anywhere else in the world.
“First of all, we need to come up with new methods of identification, which will be more advanced, precise and, what is equally
Only five years ago we came to realize, here and abroad, that genetics could be of much bigger help to law-enforcement agencies
important, cheaper. These methods will be used to create a databank of genotypes of various populations (DNA analysis for scientific studies is voluntary). The population in Russia is more diverse with regard to its ethnic composition. Our countries, however, are closely interconnected. The border is regularly crossed by thousands of people, among whom there are persons who are on the police wanted list. “Of course, these issues are equally important for Belarus. By the way, because of the growing migration flows from third countries and the changing population structure geneticists have to learn to identify different ethnic groups,” Doctor of Biology, Professor, Head of the Human Genetics Lab at the NASB Institute of Genetics and Cytology Irma Mosse said.
It is worth saying that certain genetic peculiarities can be definitely linked to a small region. For example, indigenous people living in small remote villages will have certain features which will distinguish them from people living in other villages. Therefore, in the future it will be possible to identify the exact place of birth of a criminal.
Specialists believe one cannot commit a crime without leaving any biological evidence. To identify a person it is enough to find only a few cells of his or her body. The DNA retains its structural features for millennia, not days. The application of such technologies will reduce the risk of judicial errors almost to zero.
“Any biological material, be it a hair, blood, saliva, a skin cell, sweat and grease, allows detecting a human genotype, i.e. determining his or her gender, age, appearance (physique, the color of eyes, hair, skin, etc.), medical history. Of course, this information helps narrow down the search. Last year a DNA test helped the French police catch the robber of a jewelry store who decided to kiss a hostage goodbye. One small kiss was enough to identify a person. Therefore, it is very important or even essential to master various methods and create a genetic information database,” Irma Mosse believes.
Specialists believe one cannot commit a crime
without leaving any biological evidence
By the way, nowadays Western experts are developing forensic DNA databases that help investigate a crime in the lab. Statistics show that the UK police annually solve about 40,000 crimes with the help of DNA tests. If the genetic profile from a crime scene matches the profile from the database, the criminal will be identified immediately.
Apart from identification of criminals, the technologies developed within the framework of the program will be used for establishing the identity of persons with memory loss and victims of homicides, disasters, and war crimes. One of the most famous DNA tests was carried out on the remains of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
Treating People, not Diseases
The second part of the Union State program called Health and Life Quality is dedicated to genetic research. Today genetic testing receives a lot of attention due to its great practical application prospects in medicine. At present, the concept of personalized medicine is gaining traction around the world. Personalized medicine means tailored medical treatment based on the person’s genetic makeup. Sometimes it happens that one and the same medicine works for one patient but has no effect on the health of another or even exacerbates his or her condition. Specialists explain that responsiveness to drugs depends on metabolic genes. A medicine can quickly travel through the human body and produce no improvement. Or even worse, it may fail to dissolve and cause negative effects. By the way, today all hepatitis C patients are required to undergo genetic testing. Ideally, treatment of many diseases should be preceded by genetic typing.
Other rapidly evolving fields of medicine include predictive, preventive, and participatory medicine. These fields represent four dimensions of the so-called P4 medicine. Specialists believe that proactive P4 medicine is the medicine of the future.
“Predictive medicine is a clinical discipline designed to predict the probability of diseases through the use of DNA analysis. If, for example, one is genetically prone to diabetes, they change their nutritional behavior (reduce carbohydrate intake) thereby preventing the disease. In case of proneness to osteoporosis, people go on a milk diet with calcium supplements. As for cardiovascular diseases, the patient gives up smoking, keeps his/her weight down, and starts doing physical exercises. Preventive medicine, in turn, relies on anticipatory actions. The lifestyle determines whether a predisposed person will actually develop the disease. Finally, participatory medicine emphasizes the active role of the patient. For example, we can buy a glucose meter and measure the amount of glucose in our blood,” Irma Mosse explained.
DNA tests offered by the Institute of Genetics and Cytology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus have already helped many Belarusian women suffering from miscarriages. During pregnancy women experience an increased development of blood clots and those of them who have a genetic predisposition often develop microclots in placenta. This prevents a fetus from receiving adequate amount of oxygen and nutrients which leads to a missed abortion or miscarriage. When a DNA test identifies the risk, doctors prescribe a pregnant woman a corresponding treatment for blood thinning (with specially calculated dosage). By the way, today during the test each gene is examined separately which is long and expensive. Under the Union State program a chip is planned to be developed that will allow examining all the necessary genes at once.
Another aspect of the future joint research project is psychoemotional state of a person, in particular, stress resistance. The latter is very relevant for representatives of high-risk professions such as divers, rescuers, astronauts, and pilots. If one of them loses control over himself it may lead to a catastrophe.
It is equally important that the program will solve the problem of import substitution. The vast majority of Belarusian and Russian scientists have to buy costly foreign reagents for their tests. Now the goal is to develop domestic reagents, in this case Russian, to replace the foreign ones and to reduce the cost of the services offered to the public. Specialists will develop their own original reagents rather than copy the existing kit.
Joint efforts have always advanced the progress in reaching a goal. The DNA Identification Program will give Belarus and Russia cutting-edge technologies that will raise efficiency and reduce time of personal identification processes which is crucial for ensuring security of the Union State and health protection of its citizens.