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History of the Human Genome Project

History of the Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international research effort to decipher the entire human genome and understand the unique hereditary instructions that each person possesses. The HGP is a jointly funded project by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with additional research done by the National (NHGRI). The project, launched in 1990, was originally planned to last 15 years, but rapid advances in technology have accelerated the expected completion date to 2003. The Joint Genome Institute (JGI), established in 1997, is one of the largest publicly funded human genome sequencing centers in the world and contributes greatly to the HGP. The Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom also contributes substantial investments to the HGP.

The roots of the HGP can be traced back to the atomic bomb era that began during World War II. Descendants of bomb survivors harbor DNA mutations as a result of severe radiation exposure. These mutations were passed to their descendents who developed horrible diseases and malformations. The DOE’s role in the HGP arose to study the genetic and health effects or potential health risks of radiation and chemical by-products of energy production. Scientists realize the best way to study and treat these effects were to directly study DNA, so blood samples were collected and stored for future DNA analysis.

At a joint DOE and International Commission on Protection against Environmental Mutagens and Carcinogens (ICPAEMC) in 1984, the question was asked, “Can we, and should we, sequence the human genome?” After lengthy debates, scientists eventually decided to do it. In 1986, the DOE announced its Human Genome Initiative to decipher the human genetic script.

The HGP will transform both biology and medicine. The goals of the HGP are to identify the approximate 80 to 100,000 genes in human DNA and determine the sequences of the approximately 3.2-billion chemical bases that make up human DNA. This information will be stored in computer databases while data analysis tools will be developed to apply this information to human biology and medicine. Results of the HGP are hoped to transform the treatment of symptoms in molecular medicine to address the deepest causes of disease at their molecular foundations in their earliest stages. Gene therapy will soon be “fixing” genetic errors before they result in disease....

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