Pioneering scientists have now mapped the entire human genome, building a huge database of all the human gene sequences. This database, however, is only the beginning. The information is raw and undefined, and much of it is superfluous data that just gets in the way. 'It's simply a listing of 3.5 billion base pairs - sequences of letters containing genes - with no meaning,' says John Couch, CEO of DoubleTwist, a genomic software company with high-speed tools to analyse such data. 'We put in the punctuation and some spacing, so that you can see what the words are. But no-one really knows what they mean yet.' The challenge now is to match that information to real-world data - DNA sequences of actual people, statistics on populations and conditions, family trees and histories, precise medical information.
But even as pharmaceutical companies look at the opportunities this will create for new mass-market drugs and remedies, there's more to the genome than just a large-scale business opportunity. The genome can also be a resource for individuals not just as consumers of healthcare products, but as producers of them. Here's how: consider the genome the equivalent of the huge body of music in the world (ignoring issues of copyright).
The internet allows anyone to have access to that resource - after all, it's just information - and tools such as DoubleTwist's allow users to manipulate the data.