Symposium Overview

In his 2002 Nobel prize lecture, Sydney Brenner remarked:
"Suppose technology existed which made it easy to characterize 30,000 genomes, perhaps even to the point of resequencing them, would we bother to do this work with mice? We could go directly to humans, where we already have large numbers of diverse genomes, with skilled and expensively trained phenotypers, called doctors, studying them. Thus, since the technology does not exist, it now needs to be invented to provide the means of accurately analyzing large populations of genomes for detailed studies of natural human genetic variation and its correlation with phenotypes of health and disease. I believe that this will be the major challenge in human biology and medicine in the next decade."
He concluded his lecture by stating:
"However, there are many aspects of humanity that we still need to understand for which there are no useful models. Perhaps we should pretend that morality is known only to the gods and that if we treat humans as model organisms for the gods, then in studying ourselves we may come to understand the gods as well."

In the six years since this lecture, new advances in human genomics have begun to have a major impact on our understanding of human biology and human disease. New technologies have provided powerful new tools for the study of human genetic variation. The combination of brain imaging and genomics is leading to new insights into personality and mental disease; genes involved in language abilities are being identified; recovery of DNA sequences from ancient DNAs is providing new information about human evolution; and the impact of infectious disease on the history of human societies can be traced. Human genomic biology is beginning to invade the province of the humanities, and these discoveries have important ethical, legal and social implications.

The objective of this symposium is to discuss these exciting developments and to introduce people working in the humanities to some of these issues.