You Don’t Miss Those 8,000 Genes, Do You?


Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

When Craig Venter and his colleagues published their rough draft of the human genome in 2001 they identified 26,588 human genes. They then broke those genes down by their functions. Some were involved in building DNA, some in relaying signals, and so on. Remarkably, though, they classified 12809 genes–almost half–as “molecular function unknown.” Last week I wanted to know if those numbers still hold. I’ve been working on a book on Escherichia coli, and I wanted to contrast just how well scientists understand that microbe to just how poorly we understand ourselves (biologically, in this case). I wanted some numbers to make my case.

They weren’t so easy to find. In 2003 some reports came out to the effect that the genome had shrunk down to 21,000 genes. But I couldn’t turn up much news in the past four years. I wondered what sort of artificial milestone I would have to wait for in order to get some fresh numbers.

Fortunately there are now some rivals to the milestone model of science. There are web sites where you can observe works in progress, such as the human genome. One of those sites is called PANTHER. I contacted the top scientist behind it, Paul D. Thomas, with my question, and he sent me a link. When I clicked on the link, I got the pie chart I’ve posted here (click on the image to go to the original page if it’s hard to read).

The pie shows that we’re now down to just 18,308 genes.

More here.