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It is a cliché to suggest that we are standing at the edge of a new age, but in terms of genetic science, that cliché is an understatement. Just as the great gains in theory and methodology achieved by physicists early in the 20th century produced both an exponential growth in understanding and applications of that knowledge that transformed human affairs, so the work of genetic researchers in the last decade of the 20th century set the stage for what I am sure we all agree will be equally astonishing theoretical and practical transformations in biology in this century.

There has, of course, been a great deal of hype as well. The tendency to claim "breakthrough" for every research finding, especially those related to grave human diseases, is visible on a daily basis in the media, as well as in more scientific settings. This tendency, which is born both of intellectual excitement and simple pride, driven as well by the competition for research funding and by the imperatives of University publicity departments, carries the potential for backlash.

Yet, even if...