The human as an experimental system in molecular genetics

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Science  10 Jun 1988:
Vol. 240, Issue 4858, pp. 1483-1488
DOI: 10.1126/science.3287625


There are compelling reasons for choosing to develop the human as the highest-order experimental system in genetics: an obvious social context that stirs interest, wide medical observation of the population that permits identification of an abundance of genetic defects, and our ability to perceive in the human subtle or complex variations that may not be observable in other species. Various lines of genetic inquiry that are based on research in other systems--cytogenetic analysis, biochemical studies, mapping of defective loci by linkage analysis in affected families, and in vitro techniques such as the creation of transgenic organisms--complement and enrich each other. New phenomena that would not have been predicted from investigations in other organisms have been found in humans, such as the discovery of the "giant" Duchenne muscular dystrophy gene and the identification of recessive cancer genes. Genetic research is yielding insights into human biology that are raising new possibilities for therapy and prevention of disease, as well as challenges to society in the form of ethical decisions about the appropriate application of genetic information.