Deciphering the Genetic Code

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As a part of the monumental effort to determine the sequence of the entire human genome, a UW researcher has carried out the complete sequence analysis of the first complex multigene family: the T cell receptor family. This sequence is the longest stretch of human genetic material analyzed as of 1995.

The work was carried out by Leroy Hood, professor and founding chairman of the UW molecular biotechnology department. He holds the William Gates III Chair in Biomedical Sciences, having come to the UW from the California Institute of Technology in 1992.

The sequence of the T cell receptor locus has enabled Hood and his co-workers to decipher all of the immune receptor elements contained in this family. "This is critical information for new approaches to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and Rheumatoid arthritis," he notes.

Hood has played an instrumental role in launching and promoting the Human Genome Project, the 15-year, $3-billion effort to map the roughly 100,000 genes that provide the "blueprint" for the human body.

Gene sequencers, developed in the 1980s by Hood and his research team, and now standard equipment in genetic research labs, allow scientists to "decode" the genetic alphabet by determining the sequences of the chemical groups guanine (G), cytosine (C), adenine (A), and thymine (T) that encode genetic information in DNA. Hood uses sequencing technology along with other computational tools to decipher the volumes of information held in human genes.

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