The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international research
program designed to construct detailed genetic and physical maps of the
human genome, to determine the complete nucleotide sequence of
human DNA, to localize the estimated 80,000 genes within the human
genome, and to perform similar analyses on the genomes of several other
organisms used extensively in research laboratories as model systems.
This project is estimated to take 15 years to complete from October 1990
and has already cost the U.S. 2.5 billion dollars. The scientific products
of the HGP will comprise a resource of detailed information about the
structure, organization and function of human DNA, information that is
the basic set of inherited instructions for the development and
functioning of a human being.
What is the overall goal of the Project?
In September, advisory committees at DOE and NIH approved new
5-year goals aimed at completing the Human Genome Project two years
earlier than originally planned in 1990. The new plan, published in the
October 23, 1998 issue of Science, covers fiscal years 1999-2003 and
calls for generating a working draft of the human genome DNA
sequence by 2001 and obtaining the complete and highly accurate
reference sequence by 2003. A new goal focuses on identifying regions of
the human genome that differ from person to person. Although the vast
majority of our DNA sequences are the same, scientists estimate that
humans are 99.9% identical genetically. These DNA sequence variations
can have a major impact on how our bodies respond to disease,
environmental insults, such as bacteria, viruses, toxins, drugs and other
Other major goals outlined in the plan include exploring the
functions of human genes using methods that include comparing human
DNA sequences with those from organisms such as the laboratory mouse
and yeast. Then they must address the ethical, legal, and social issues
surrounding genetic tools and data, develop the computational capability
to collect, store, and analyze DNA.
If successful, the completion of the human DNA sequence in 2003
will be the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s description of the
fundamental structure of DNA. Already revolutionizing biology, genome
research provides a vital thrust to the increasing productivity and
pervasiveness of the life sciences. Current and potential applications of
genome research address national needs in molecular medicine, waste
control and environmental cleanup, biotechnology, energy sources, and
Chromosomes, which range in size from 50 million to 250 million
bases are broken into very short pieces. Each short piece is used as a
template to generate a set of fragments that differ in length from each
other by a single base (template preparation and sequencing reaction
steps). Now the fragments in a set are separated by gel electrophoresis.
Then fluorescent dyes allow separation of all four fragments in a single
lane on the gel. The final base at the end of each fragment is identified
(base calling step). This process recreates the original sequence of As,
Ts, Cs, and Gs for each short piece generated in the first step. Current
electrophoresis limits are about 500-700 bases sequenced per read.
Automated sequences analyze the resulting electropherograms and the
result is a four-color chromatogram showing peaks that represent each
of the 4 DNA bases. After the bases are read by a computer, another
computer is used to assemble the short sequences in blocks of about 500
bases each, called the read length into long continuous stretches that are
analyzed for errors, gene-coding regions, and other characteristics.
Finished sequence is submitted to public sequence databases, such as
GenBank. Now The Human Genome Project sequence data is made free
to anyone around the world who would like to view it.
Benefits of the completed Project
This project will be a great jump in understanding human genes
which will provide us with many answers we would like to know, and
many that we haven’t thought about yet. Genome maps of other
organisms will provided so we can compare them to the human genome
and let us compare and understand other biological systems.
Information generated and technologies developed will revolutionize
future biological explorations.
Genes involved in various genetic diseases will be found, and
further studies will lead to an understanding of how those genes
contribute to genetic diseases. Among these diseases will be the genes
involved in cancer. Medical practices will be altered when new clinical
technologies based on DNA diagnostics are combined with information
coming from genome maps. Researchers will be able to identify
individuals predisposed to particular diseases and come up with
therapeutic practices based on new classes of drugs, immunotherapy
techniques, avoidance of environmental conditions that may trigger
disease, and possible replacement of defective genes through gene
Another benefit will come from understanding genetic similarities
between mammals and humans. There isn’t that much difference
between human biology and cattle or mouse biology. What we learn
about human genetics will help us to raise healthier, more productive,
disease-resistant farm animals that might, through wise and careful
genetic engineering, produce drugs of value to us.
Technologies, databases, and biological resources developed in
genome research will have an enormous impact on a wide variety of
biotechnology-related industries in such fields as agriculture, energy
production, waste control, and environmental cleanup. The potential for
commercial development presents U.S. industry with a great deal of
wealth and opportunities from sales of biotechnology products.
With all the benefits people tend to forget about a lot the things
that could hurt our way of life by uncovering this information. This new
information could be used to take biological warfare to a new level that is
incomprehensible. It could also create a form of genetic racism that
could separate countries and states.
There are some less serious but still very important legal and social
and ethical issues that will also need to be addressed. One of the major
ethical issues is if we will allow this technology to be used to genetically
engineer a so called Super Race. In my opinion I don’t think messing
human nature in this way is a good idea at all. It could cause less
genetic diversity which makes humans what they are. There’s also the
big picture of over population and how it could ruin our planet. Nature
has to take it’s course even with this technology unless we can figure out
how to make other planets inhabitable for humans.
Genetic Information Discovered So Far
According to the Genome Database (GDB), the public repository for
human genome mapping information, over 7600 genes had been mapped
to particular chromosomes in January 1999. Tens of thousands of
human gene fragments have been identified as expressed sequence tags
(EST’s). These are also being assigned to positions on chromosome maps
The physical mapping goal is to establish a marker every 100,000
bases across each chromosome (about 30,000 markers). The most
complete map yet was published in summer 1997 and featured about
8000 landmarks, which provided about twice the resolution of previous
maps. Similarly detailed maps have been produced for a few individual
chromosomes, but this map offers landmarks across the entire human
genome that are also positioned relative to each other. Currently an
estimated 5% of the human genome has actually been sequence.
In my opinion I believe that the information found by the Human
Genome Project is going to be a useful tool for our future, and well worth
the billions of dollars it is costing us. But there will need to be laws
made to protect it from being misused. It should be used to cure
diseases by gene therapy and to better our lives with this technology. It
shouldn’t be used to make a Super Breed of humans or cloning. The
information should also be banned from being used in the military. If
this information is not used improperly I believe it will better our lives.