Dr. Kim Seong-jin
Gachon University of
Medicine & Science
By Kim Tong-hyung
Korean scientists sequencing the human genome said they have finished the job after just seven months, an achievement that may eventually reveal new opportunities for the treatment of genetic diseases.
The subject of the latest genome sequencing was Kim Seong-jin, a cancer specialist from Gachon University of Medicine and Science, who became just the fourth individual ever, and the first Korean, to have his DNA blueprint decoded.
The individual genome sequence of American biologist Craig Venter was published in 2007, followed by those of DNA pioneer James Watson in April. Chinese scientist Yang Huanming became the first Asian last month to have his genome sequenced.
The first Reference Sequence of the human genome was announced in 2003, a result of collaborative efforts of 16 laboratories in the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Japan and China.
``Dr. Watson, who won a Nobel prize for his discovery of the double-helix structure of the DNA, revealed his DNA sequence to advance studies in personalized medical treatment,'' said Kim, who led a team of researchers from Gachon University and the Korean Bioinformation Center (KOBIC) for the project.
``I threw myself into the project after being inspired by Dr. Watson's book, and I am honored to reveal my DNA sequence for the development of medical research,'' he said.
Genome sequencing is considered crucial in assessing the risks of genetic diseases, with the analysis of genetic makeup allowing doctors to predict which diseases individuals are susceptible to.
Scientists have already identified specific genetic sequences that could be linked to certain conditions such as cancer, leukemia, diabetes, depression and alcoholism.
The completion of Kim's personal genome sequence is claimed as a breakthrough in efforts to establish a reference genome for Koreans, which would introduce advancements in medical genetics and ``customized'' treatment for patients.
Currently, Korean researchers are relying on the reference genome provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify DNA sequence variations such as SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism), which explain differences in human traits and disease susceptibility.
The research was also in line with the goal of making genome sequencing more commercially viable to patients.
The seven months of research to complete the genome sequence cost about 1.05 billion won ($716,000) including 800 million won for the computer system used for the decoding. In comparison, Venter's genome sequencing took four years and about 100 billion won ― Watson's project took about four months and 1.5 billion won, Kim said.
Scientists believe that the cost could drop to around $1,000 in two to three years, which would allow the market to ``explode.''
``There are only four people now who have had their genome sequence revealed, but that number could reach the thousands in the near future,'' said Yonsei University researcher Paik Young-ki, who participated in the project.
``The latest achievement will open the era of personalized medical treatment and also help research into disease-related protein and drug development,'' he said.
Kim's team finished the mapping of 20.7 billion DNA base pairs, compared to the 2.9 billion base pairs revealed in the reference genome project.
His genome sequence reveals that genetic variations between humans could be greater than previously thought. Kim's genome map revealed a total of 3.23 million SNPs, including 1.58 million SNPs that weren't found in the genome sequences of Venter, Watson and Yang.