The Human Genome Project
The human genome project is something that I have been very interested with ever since first learning of it. I had heard bits and pieces of what it is about, but my interest was greatly stimulated by Dr. Whited in basic genetics 311 last spring. The discussion that we had regarding the project left me with several ideas and questions about not only the process and ethics involved, but the future of the study of genetics as a whole.
To begin discussion about the HGP, we first must understand what it is. It is a massive undertaking of collaboration of geneticists that begin in 1990. Their goals are to identify all the estimated 80,000 to 100,000 genes in human DNA and determine the sequences of 3 billion bases composed of adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. The project is being funded jointly by the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Health. This massive undertaking is estimated at a cost of three billion dollars, with the most current target date for the project's completion at the year 2003. They will then store this information in a centralized database so it can be used as tools for their analysis. Also as a first for science, they are going to address the logical, ethical, and social issues that the project will give rise to.
What is a genome and why is it important? A genome is the DNA that an organism possesses. The DNA is made up of combinations of the four bases (A,T,C,&G) that I listed above. The sequence of these bases code for proteins that determine how an organism looks, it's viability, and sometimes even how it behaves. That is why this project is so important. The possibilities of what we can learn about ourselves are endless.
The benefits of this project are far reaching. Many disease alleles have already been identified. Having the knowledge of where a specific trait is and the sequence that codes for it allows geneticists to perform tests to check whether or not an individual will be affected. This opens up a great opportunity to identify individuals with a disease before it could be diagnosed. This would allow for earlier treatment and chances at possible prevention of certain disorders.
There are many human medical problems that can be controlled by early detection. This program would be incredibly beneficial to the fight of those diseases. Also as a medical benefit is the possibility of gene therapy drugs that could prevent or cure disease. They also could reach as far as to eradicate many of the killers that have plagued mankind for generations. These are some of the reasons that many large companies are attempting to align themselves with other companies that have the technology to capitalize from these new findings. Projections of DNA-based products and technologies in the biotech industry are exceeding $45 billion by the year 2009.
Exploration into the function of each gene discovered will continue well into the 21st century. The knowledge gained from this...