Everyday genomes

From the Guardian, a pause to consider how ordinary complete genome analysis has become: “Genome research: discovery as an everyday event”.

When the Human Genome Project was completed in April 2003, it was hailed as biology's equivalent of the moon landing. Ten years on, what began as costly, painstaking and uncertain science has become commonplace.
Researchers now have the entire genomes of more than 4,000 species pathogens such as salmonella, leprosy and tuberculosis, parasites such as the malaria plasmodium, insects such as the fruit fly and the malarial mosquito, crops such as maize, the grape and the golden delicious apple, mammals such as the dog, the African elephant, the laboratory mouse and the chimpanzee. One consortium is comparing the genetic texts of a thousand human beings; another is assembling all the variations that might explain differing susceptibilities to disease, and differing responses to the same drugs; a third is using inherited markers to build up a detailed picture of the great journey of homosapiens [sic] out of Africa 70,000 years ago to colonise almost the entire world.

It is glorious, because it means that we can now do comparative science instead of “big science” on genomes. There’s a whole lot of opportunity for those of us who concentrate on statistical and analytical methods of comparing populations, instead of single genomes. And it will become more and more possible to do good work with new data, as new data become cheaper and cheaper to obtain.

Meanwhile, I’m tired of “the great journey out of Africa”. Clue to writers: Most of our species was still in Africa, where the majority of humans still lived some 20,000 years ago. When those genetic markers are doing a better job of telling us what happened to our African ancestors, I’ll have more confidence about the story of how a minority of them left Africa.