The Good News

Toxic Testing, Chemical Reactions and Longevity

The Human Genome Project may offer some good news for the environment, too. Some examples: Faster Determination Of What Is Toxic—And For Whom. Everybody wonders what causes cancer. Researchers could place, say, cadmium directly onto a few strands of DNA, and immediately, right before their eyes, watch how the DNA responds, says Andrew Savitz, partner, Environmental Advisory Services Practice, at Price-Waterhouse-Coopers in New York. In this way, researchers could predict how people with certain genetic makeups would react to particular chemicals, agrees Dr. Samuel Wilson, deputy director of the National Institutes for Environmental Health Services in Maryland. Researchers may even watch mutations as they happen, Savitz says. That beats the current system—conducting controlled studies for years to prove which chemicals are toxic, or waiting to see a two-headed fish swim downstream. “It will eliminate some of the guesswork,” Savitz predicts. “To me, that's an immediate benefit” of the human genome research.

Testing Water For Many Strains Of Bacteria Simultaneously. “It could help improve the quality of life for all of us—easily determining if there's bacteria in the water,” says Anne Bowdidge, spokesperson for Affymetrix, a company in Santa Clara, California, that takes raw data from the Human Genome Project and packages it for scientists. The biological diagnostic company bioMerieux Vitek aims to use DNA probes as the basis of diagnostic kits for rapidly identifying bacteria.

Want To Live To 110, Or 130? Longevity may increase, at least for the richest people, thanks to advancements that trace to the Genome Project. That's good news for one segment of the natural world—humans. The possible downside: Since the world's wealthiest people consume resources at a greater rate—one rich person equals 20 Bangladeshis, roughly speaking—that's hard on natural resources.

Population In Poor Nations Could Stabilize (Or Not). It all depends on whether the advances coming from research on the human genome—and the genomes of infectious agents and food crops—trickle down to help poor countries. “If genomics improve child survival and food production in poor countries, population growth rates are likely to slow and prosperity is likely to increase. If poor countries are deprived of the opportunity to benefit from genomics, inequity and instability will increase,” says Rockefeller University population expert Joel E. Cohen, author of How Many People Can the Earth Support?
Advances In Microbe Research. Methodologies and technologies used during the course of the Human Genome Project will go on to be applied to other tasks—such as increasing scientists' limited understanding of “microbes that can modify wastes in the environment, hopefully in ways that make them less-threatening to all of us.” So says Daniel Drell, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research.