Young Works in Genetics
Leads to Mapping of Human Genome
Four years ago, Samford senior Brook Craven '96 sat
fascinated, listening to a lecture by guest speaker Craig Venter,
the pioneering geneticist. Venter was already well known for
his invention of a faster, more efficient way to sequence DNA
molecules, or determine the order of their chemical sub-units.
The next week, Craven telephoned Venter asking if his company,
The Institute for Genomic Research [TIGR], would accept her as
an intern. TIGR had no internships, Venter said, but needed full-time
research associates. He invited the biology major to interview
during spring break. She did so, and came away with a job at
the cutting-edge research company in Rockville, Md.
Brook Craven Young '96 now heads genomic project department
at Illinois firm.
TIGR's primary work was mapping the genomes, or chemical makeup,
of bacteria and plants. In 1998, Venter formed a new company,
Celera Genomics, which last summer announced near-completion
of the mapping of the human genome. Venter applied TIGR's work
toward this celebrated achievement by Celera. The announcement
made international news.
Craven-now Brook Craven Young-was part of the research and development
team at TIGR. Her job was to work on a faster way to sequence
certain genomes. The process she worked on facilitates genome
She also started a training department at TIGR, teaching new
employees about DNA sequencing and representatives of outside
institutions and companies that contracted with TIGR how to sequence
genomes. Lastly, she became a manager in the genetics lab.
Young also worked on a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University
while working full-time at TIGR. After completing the degree,
and with her four years-plus experience at TIGR, she was named
manager of the genomic project department of Chicago-based Integrated
Genomics in her native Illinois.
If genetics research seems a complex and abstract pursuit, Young
says it offers concrete rewards.
"The wonderful thing about this field," she said, "is
that one sees the impact of research on a daily basis. For example,
for a long time, ulcers were assumed to be caused by stress and
were treated accordingly. At TIGR, we defined the genetic code
for Helicobacter Pylori, an organism of interest because of its
ability to live in highly acidic environments.
"After the data gathered were released for public use, scientists
found this bacteria to be present in most ulcers. After further
investigation, it was determined that this bacteria is what causes
ulcers. Now, doctors successfully treat ulcer patients with antibiotics."
Understanding the human genome is expected to revolutionize the
practice of medicine as biologists develop diagnostics and treatments
based on the genome. But such knowledge also could be used in
harmful ways, such as in revealing patients' disposition to disease,
if their privacy is not protected.
Geneticists, like nuclear physicists of the 20th century, work
on the frontier of human ethics, reminded constantly of the moral
implications of their research. Are they "playing God,"
as some would say?
Rather, Young believes such new knowledge is "a gift from
God" which allows science to serve humanity better.
"Christians need to rely on the word of God as well as our
God-given conscience in order to know how the Lord wants us to
love and serve others with this knowledge," she said.