Our future

An editorial from 2053: The media pays tribute to genomics

Excerpt from an editorial published in the April 1, 2053 Utopian Herald, page A1.

April 2053 marks a major milestone in the history of humanity. One hundred years ago, on April 25, 1953, researchers Watson and Crick discovered the double helix formation of DNA. Fifty years later, in April 2003, the human genome was fully sequenced.

As early as the year 2000, progressive thinkers like Juan Enriquez predicted the revolution that would be triggered by these discoveries. Back then, however, not everyone agreed that the information contained in the infinitesimally small universe of DNA would one day transform our world in such a profound way.

In 2010, the causes and evolution of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and tuberculosis remained elusive. Not to mention that at the time, over 40 percent of the nation’s budget was dedicated to health care! And let’s not forget the havoc wreaked by cancer and the sad shape of the environment.

While media and public opinion spent the decade entranced by the bells and whistles of social networking sites, genomic researchers and pioneers were striving to promote and unleash the potential of this branch of science, the measure of which was not yet fully grasped.

Looking back to 50 years of achievements

To put it simply, genomics allowed us to gain insight into our own evolution and that of other species, so that we could better cope with diseases and face the many environmental problems plaguing us since the Industrial Revolution. All of this was made possible by advances in genomics that generated effective solutions to problems threatening our world.

According to Emma Mattison, a professor at the Centre for Applied Genomics and Director of the Research Chair in Environmental Genomics at the World University, “World hunger has decreased thanks to farming practices developed from the science of genomics. We have enhanced our food and agricultural productivity, while ensuring the sustainable, environmentally responsible development of our land. Infectious diseases are still commonplace today, but at least now we can rapidly identify new germs and viruses and produce vaccines. Fifty years ago, only the most forward-thinking – not to say eccentric – researchers dared to dream of such monumental achievements.”

Today, personalized medicine is no longer just a pipe dream. The right drug at the right dose for the right patient has become standard practice. Cancer and heart disease remain far too common, but genomics has led to a broader understanding of these diseases, helping us to better manage and treat them both.

On the environmental front, we have successfully reduced our carbon footprint and cleaned our air and water. We have even developed clean energy sources. Genomics has, in fact, enabled us to produce and use cleaner fossil fuel thanks to an improved understanding of cellulosic materials, vegetable oil enhancement and polymer synthesis using advanced microbial fermentation. What were once considered agricultural, forestry and fishing waste by-products have now become an inexhaustible source of material to be bio-processed into value-added, biodegradable commodities for the food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and plastic industries. Today, the Canadian biochemical (geno-chemical) industry is thriving and ranks among the world’s leaders in the area.

Advances in genomics have also led to the ongoing monitoring of food safety through the introduction of various traceability programs. These programs can trace back the source of food (meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, etc.), detect ingredients foreign to a given food and identify the geographic origin of substances (bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects, etc.)Genomics has made all of this possible and so much more!

On April 15, read the Utopian Herald’s tribute to these genomic researchers in a special Health and Innovation supplement.