The Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project

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The Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project is a phenomenal achievement and undertaking for all of humankind. What it is, its goals, history, what it can do to our culture, and even the controversy the project causes is extraordinary, because man has come so close to unlocking a small part of the mystery of life!
The Human Genome Project is a project whos ultimate goal is to decode all human genes, and to identify specific traits that make up a person. Many human diseases can be identified by the DNA sequence, along with the physical characteristics of a person. With this information in the future, people will be able to choose their children's features, they can grow a copy of a diseased organ, people will have a better understanding of all DNA, and there may be cures developed for hereditary diseases.
This project began in October of 1990. It is an international effort, for 18 other countries are contributing to it in some way. The countries involved are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, England, and the United States. In the United States, the director of the project is Ari Patrinos and Francis Collins. Ari Patrinos is also the head of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and Francis Collins is the leader of the Health National Human Genome Research Institute. Some pioneers in the Human Genome Project were an American biochemist, James Watson, and English biophysicists Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. Altogether the cost of this project in the United States is an estimated three billion dollars.
The genome is the collection of all genetic material in an organism. This material, DNA, is composed of 4 chemicals known as bases. The main bases are adenine, (A) guanine, (G) thymine, (T) and cytosine. (C) The bases join in pairs, (Adenine with thymine, and guanine with cytocine.) forming rungs of a ladder. This is the double helix of DNA! The genetic code is distinguished by the order of these chemical bases. The entire human genome has about three billion base pairs. There are about 50-100 thousand genes found on the 23 pairs of chromosomes.
There are two types of ways to map genes. Linkage mapping, or genetic mapping, is a method that shows the order of genes on a chromosome. It was developed by Thomas Hunt Morgan in the early 1900's. This American biologist and geneticist observed how characteristics were inherited in a common fruit fly, and he created a map that showed the order of genes in chromosomes.

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In 1933, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology. Physical Mapping, on the other hand, maps the distance between landmarks on the chromosome. This work is done by using a combination of robotics, lasers, and computers to map the genes. It was developed by Frederick Sanger, a British biochemist.
By cracking the human genome code, many tests are available for finding diseases in people. Gene testing is when the DNA is examined directly, and is used in carrier screening, prenatal diagnostic testing, newborn screening, presymptomatic testing, and confirmational diagnosis of diseases. The major diseases that are able to be detected by gene testing are Alzheimer's disease, Cancers, Cystic Fibrosis, Dystonia, Hemophilia, Huntington's Disease, Myotonic Dystrophy, Sickle Cell Diseases, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and many others. These tests can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
There have been many societal and moral concerns that have arisen from the genome project and gene testing. The main concerns of people are the fairness of using genetic information by other people, the privacy of genetic information, the psychological impact on a person due to genetic diversity, uncertainties of gene testing, and most of all the moral and religious controversy of beliefs. Some believe that altering people's genes and being able to choose characteristics for their children goes against God's Will. Some think that it is not our place to have that much power over life. Nonetheless, there is some major controversy on the horizon for us, if we succeed in breaking the human gene code.
Today, the project is almost complete. The draft sequence was completed in June, 2000, and a final copy is expected to be done sometime in the year 2003. Today, the final draft is about 25% complete.
The Human Genome Project, when completed, will effect our lives tremendously. It will change the way we see ourselves, and it will really allow us to 'choose' ourselves. There is an underlying question, though, that can only be answered in time when we can look back on the project. Was it really the right thing to do?


Key Prosecution Evidence, Hauptmann Trial Homepage. April 4, 2001.
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