A hundred years of warm-up should be enough; time to get to work. Exactly a century ago, in 1900, Hugo Marie de Vries, Carl Erich Correns and Erich Tschermak von Seysenegg independently rediscovered Gregor Mendel¿s 40-years-fallow work on the rules of heredity. About a decade passed before Thomas Hunt Morgan refined those ideas into a concept of heritable genetic units strung along the chromosomes. Francis Crick and James Watson¿s famous one-page paper proposed the double-helical structure for DNA in 1953, and that twisty key unlocked the secrets of the molecule. This year, in 2000, both Celera Genomics and the international government consortium of laboratories called the Human Genome Project are releasing complete drafts of the sequence of bases in human DNA¿essentially, the unedited recipe books for every protein made by human cells.
That¿s an impressive gulf to have spanned in so short a time. But the view 100 years from now is even less conceivable, because the end of the genome projects marks only the beginning of biotechnology¿s ascent. Our examination of "The Business of the Human Genome," beginning on page 48, charts what to expect next. Just as computing evolved from a rarefied specialist¿s endeavor into a consumer pastime, genetic science is changing into a technology with everyday commercial applications. For some time to come, most of the products will be biopharmaceutical or diagnostic. Much further off is gene therapy, an attempt to redress disease at the level of DNA.
This article was originally published with the title Bracing for the Imminent.