Long-term prospects for applying genetic knowledge

About a hundred leading experts in the field of genetics and biotechnology — from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Poland, Latvia and elsewhere — recently gathered in Minsk for the international forum, discussing problems and prospects in their sphere for the coming century
By Veronika Yulianova

Although genetics is traditionally considered to be a fundamental science, it has inspired application in many industries, explains the Director of the Institute of Genetics and Cytology, Alexander Kilchevsky — a corresponding member of the National Academy of Sciences. 

In recent years, close collaboration with doctors has allowed DNA markers to diagnose our aptitude to suffer from various diseases: cardiovascular, diabetes, bronchial asthma and, even, individual reactions to drugs. Already, more than 60 genes have been ‘mastered’ and more than 6,000 people have been diagnosed. It is a step towards personalised medicine.

A DNA bank is being created, forming a genetic portrait of the modern Belarusian population. Particularly, the DNA of athletes from 12 national teams has been taken, with 20 genes studied to discover musculoskeletal characteristics, alongside genes which may be responsible for endurance and speed.

Genetic studies also aim to raise crop yields and quality, via efficient selection (including transgenic). It is a global trend which is ignored at our peril. Belarusian scientists have already created seeds which show resistance to disease and insects (including the Colorado potato beetle). Potatoes, rape seed, cranberries and clover have been modified, with work continuing.

“We want our work to reflect global demand, so we’re carrying out various projects jointly with agricultural and medical institutions, notes Mr. Kilchevsky, who is keen to see ideas put into practice. By 2020, an impressive $500m of biotechnological products should be produced.
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