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Mediterranean Countries Forget the Mediterranean Diet

The world is tending toward a monodiet based on Western fast food, and nowhere is this more striking than in Spain and Italy

3 min read
Opening illustration for Numbers Don't Lie opinion column.
Illustration: Chad Hagen

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet became widely known after 1970, when Ancel Keys published the first installment in his long-term study of nutrition and health in Italy, Greece, and five other countries and found that the diet was associated with a low incidence of heart disease.

The key traits of the diet are a high intake of carbohydrates (mostly bread, pasta, and rice) complemented by pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas) and nuts, dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt), fruits and vegetables, seafood, and lightly processed seasonal foods, generally cooked with olive oil. It included much more modest quantities of sugar and of meat. Best of all, plenty of wine was taken with the food.

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A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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