Using Humans as a Model Organism - Sydney Brenner

Using Humans as a Model Organism - Sydney Brenner

Here are some thought-provoking ideas from an old lecture of Brenner (emphasis ours).

Brenner, who was one of the 2002 Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine, helped discover messenger RNA. He also pioneered the use of the soil roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism, opening the door for new insights into developmental biology, aging, and programmed cell death.

But these days hes pushing a new model organism: humans. We dont have to look for a model organism anymore, Brenner said. Because we are the model organisms.

As researchers unravel the genome, its easier than ever to evaluate human biology directly, rather than extrapolating it from research on other animals, he said. Human research happens all the time in society in families and communities to governments and religions, Brenner mused, Why dont we now use this to try to understand our genomes and ourselves?

He acknowledged that there are still challenges to interpreting genetic information. But Brenner argued that the extensive variation between individuals could hold a wealth of information. It is the variation that has become the interesting thing to study, he said.

Even so, completely analyzing the genetics of tens of thousands of humans remains technically impractical and prohibitively expensive. Even as sequencing becomes cheaper, Brenner noted, interpreting the data will likely remain challenging.

What we need, actually, is a view of all this that tests hypotheses all the time, Brenner argued. This includes studying human mutants something that may not be as difficult as it sounds given that, Were all mutants, basically. Its hard to find a wild type.

You can read the rest in this link - ‘Sydney Brenner Urges Cancer Researchers to Consider ‘Bedside to Bench’ Approach’.

One thing for sure, Brenner was not advocating about collecting tons of genomic data ENCODE style. In fact, he cannot even stand any of the ‘omics’ sciences. Here are the quotes from his other speeches and comments.

The title of his talk was The Next 100 Years of Biology, but Brenner, whose scientific triumphs include establishing the existence of messenger RNA, shied away from speculation. Instead, he asked, What should we do over the next 100 years?

I think a lot of (biology) is going in absolutely the wrong direction, he said.

The Human Genome Project, for example, has led to what Brenner called factory science heavy investment in expensive gene sequencers that begin to drive the direction of research.

You have 100 machines; youre looking at about $100 million of investment, he said. And youve just got to keep that going all the time in order to get the use from them.

This, he said, and the Genburo, the Politburo of Genetics, in which everything is decided stultifies research, and discourages young people from entering the field.

Brenner contends that the organizing principle for thinking about the genome can be found in the cell, the basic unit of life. In an essay he published in the January 12, 2010, issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Brenner outlined a project called CellMap, which would catalogue every type of cell in the body and detail how different genetic regions (not genes) behave in each cellular environment. He compared it to a city map that identifies each house, the people who live inside it, and the interactions within and between the houses. I think we should be doing genetics, not genomics, says Brenner. When you do genetics, you are focusing on function. When you do genomics, these are just letters and numbers. Nobody bothers about the connections.

We earlier talked about the alternative proposed in his Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B article “Sequences and Consequences” here .

Written by M. //