An international research team was set Tuesday to publish a detailed map on the Internet of more than 20,000 human genes in what is seen as a major breakthrough for medical science.
"We are confident now that anyone in academia or industry who uses our database will gain far deeper insight into the meaning of human disease than was previously possible," Japanese team leader Takashi Gojobori was quoted as saying.
Presented as a milestone event for biologists, doctors and pharmacists, the map prepared by researchers from Britain, China, France, Germany, the United States and other countries will be used to find links between gene functions and pathologies.
The journal Public Library of Science Biology said the 152 scientists participating had laid the groundwork to address the challenge of connecting functions of genes and their products to the clinical effects that each of them has upon human health.
A consortium known as H-Invitational linking the researchers at 40 institutions in Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, France, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States and coordinated by Professor Gojobori, validated and annotated 21,037 human genes.
"It is very gratifying that this common effort makes use of all the contributions by teams of biologists and computer experts... working together keenly to produce knowledge in the service of human health," commented French researcher Charles Auffray, whose CNRS (French National Scientific Research Center) was closely involved.
The databank, result of two years' cooperative effort, is the largest of its kind in the world, said the German Center for Cancer Research (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, a consortium member.
The Public Library of Science Biology (www.plosbiology.org) said the original announcement of the human genome sequence three years ago, although one of the great modern scientific achievements, was only a first step.
"The monumental task of ascribing biological meaning to those sequences has just begun," it said.
The H-Invitational consortium had now taken a significant step towards this goal.
"By relating intermediate gene products called messenger RNAs to each of their parent genes and exhaustively connecting them to the relevant proteins, the consortium has established a reliable systematic network of human-curated relationships between genes and their biological functions," the journal said.
There are estimated to be about 30,000 genes in human beings, so a detailed map of most of them will be a boon for geneticists, drug researchers and genome scientists around the world, it stressed.
The database is accessible on website www.jbirc.aist.go.jp/hinv/index.jsp