The Human Genome Project

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The Human Genome Project Begun formally in 1990, the U.S. Human Genome Project is a 13-year effort coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. The project originally was planned to last 15 years, but rapid technological advances have accelerated the expected completion date to 2003. Project goals are to * identify all the approximate 30,000 genes in human DNA, * determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA, * store this information in databases, * improve tools for data analysis, * transfer related technologies to the private sector, and * address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project. To help achieve these goals, researchers also are studying the genetic makeup of several nonhuman organisms. These include the common human gut bacterium Escherichia coli, the fruit fly, and the laboratory mouse. Why do the Human Genome Project? -------------------------------- Most inherited diseases are rare, but taken together, the more than 3,000 disorders known to result from single altered genes rob millions of healthy and productive lives. Today, little can be done to treat, let alone cure, most of these diseases. But having a gene in hand allows scientists to study its structure and characterize the molecular alterations, or mutations, that result in disease. Progress in understanding the causes of cancer, for example, has taken a leap forward by the recent discovery of cancer genes. The goal of the Human Genome Project is to provide scientists with powerful new tools to ... ... middle of paper ... ... a definitive sequence creates uncertainty about the appropriate definition of "normal," which in turn makes the discussion of public policy issues difficult. Questions about controlling the manipulation of human genetic materials concerns these critics, as does the idea that simply because these scientists are able to do this science, they ought to. These critics point to the development of atomic weapons and argue that the science that led to their development caused far more problems than it resolved. Few religious groups in the United States formally have addressed the specific ethical and public policy issues raised by the HGP, although there is active interdenominational discussion of issues related to human genetics in general. Public policy debates are enriched considerably by input from these various groups.

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