2006 Dr. Raymond F. Gesteland

"Your Genes and You: We Are All Mutants"

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Ray GestelandHow will we as a society deal with this new world of DNA and genes? DNA sequences of our closest relatives, chimpanzees, and of all the rest of life on earth tell a compelling evolutionary tale of an astonishing conservation of information and functions, presenting the question of what it means to be human. Each human has a constellation of genes (about 21,000) inherited from our parents but representing versions of each gene found in the world's human population.

In the past 50 years, we have gone from the discovery of the elegant structure of DNA to a complete sequence of the 3,100,000 letters of the genetic information found in each one of our cells. This is a singular moment in history – bringing not only incomparable information but also the potential of truly disruptive technologies. We can now know the causes of our frailties, our predispositions, our future health, perhaps even our behaviors. This revolution carries the promise of new diagnoses and new therapies for the many diseases that have a basis in our genes.

New technologies are often both a cure and a blessing. Our quality of life will certainly be altered by this revolution, but how and under what circumstances are up to society to figure out. However, there is no going back – the revolution has enveloped us.

Dr. Raymond F. Gesteland earned his B.S. degree in chemistry (1960) and an M.S. in biochemistry (1961) from the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry (1965) from Harvard University. After a postdoc (1966-67) at the Institute de Biologie Moléculaire in Geneva, he was associate director for research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He joined the University of Utah as a professor of biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in 1973. From 1984 to 2000 Dr. Gesteland served as chairman and professor of Human Genetics at the University of Utah. From 1991-2000 he was director of NIH Utah Center for Human Genome Research. In November 2000, he became Vice President for Research at the University of Utah and is the recipient of the Helen Lowe Bamberger Colby Presidential Endowed Chair in Human Genetics. He is also an advisor to the University's SAGE Institute. In addition to an extensive list of articles appearing in scientific journals, Dr. Gesteland co-edited, with Thomas R. Ceck and John F. Atkins, the third edition of The RNA World (Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory Press, 2006).