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Year of the Gene Chip

The human genome is a tough act to follow. But genomics continued to dominate science news this year. Researchers sequenced the genome of the parasite that causes malaria and the mosquito that transmits it. They sequenced the anthrax bacterium, the genome of the mouse, and the genomes of several types of rice.

But this year may be best remembered as the year of the gene chip. This versatile tool—a microchip spotted with thousands of genes—is currently the hottest and most promising genomic gadget.

In 2002, gene chips were used to compare various anthrax strains to determine how they differ, to investigate the health of cloned animals, and to reveal newfound activity in 'silent' regions of the human genome.

Gene chips are also routinely used to identify targets for vaccines. In August, when scientists sequenced the group B strep bacterium, they used gene chips to identify key genes in multiple strains that could be disabled by a vaccine.

Perhaps most important to medicine, researchers used gene chips to identify cancer patients who have different subtypes of disease and therefore may respond to treatment differently.

With the explosion of information generated by gene chips have come new challenges. Some in the field are working to develop modest standards that laboratories everywhere could use to collect and report diverse types of data.

In another landmark also made possible by genomics, researchers showed that it is possible to turn off, or silence, genes in cells. By exploiting a mechanism in human cells, researchers shut down genes in poliovirus and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Gene silencing is being used to study the functions of plant genes and may have therapeutic potential.

Links to these and other exciting stories of 2002 appear in this issue of GNN. In the next issue, on December 20, we will feature some of our favorite stories about the lighter side of genomics.

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