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Fact sheet

The Human Genome Project

What is the Human Genome Project (HGP)?

The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international


collaborative research effort, which aims to identify and
locate all human genes, and to determine the complete
nucleotide sequence of human DNA. The project
involves a wide variety of professionals, including
biologists, chemists, engineers, computer scientists,
mathematicians and other scientists, working together to
plot out the genetic and physical maps of the human
genome. The scientists in the United States, the United Kingdom, France,
Germany, Japan and C hina, contribute to solve the human genome puzzle.
Hundreds of research laboratories and national research centers help focus
and coordinate the work.

The human genome is the term used to describe the different types of
sequence that together make up the DNA in a human cell. The DNA is
about 3 billion base pairs long and contains 50,000-100,000 genes. The
DNA is arranged as a set of 23 chromosomes, each of which is a single,
double-stranded DNA molecule of 55-250 million base pairs long. The
gene and gene-related sequences account for about 25% of the DNA.

What are the Goals of the HGP?

The major goal of the HGP is to identify all the genes in human DNA.
Another goal is to determine the sequences of the 3 billion base pairs that
make up human DNA. The project also includes goals for sequencing
technology development; storing the information in databases; developing
technology for data analysis; completing the sequence of model organisms
such as Drosophila, E.coli; training of genome scientists; and studying the
ethical, legal, and social issues that may arise from the project.
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Progress of the HGP

The HGP was first proposed in 1986 as a program to


make a genetic map of human. It was funded by
the U.S. Congress to begin work in 1989, and James
Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix structure
of DNA, was appointed as the first director. In 1990,
the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the
Department of Energy (DOE) of the U.S. developed a joint research plan.
The project was planned to last for 15 years, but effective resource s and
technological advances have accelerated the expected completion date to
2003. In May 1998, Celera Genomics, a privately funded biotechnology
company, announced plans to sequence the human genome. On 28 June
2000, international leaders of the HGP confirmed that the draft sequence of
the human genome was complete.

Through sequencing, the Project has so far identified nearly all of the
estimated 31,000 genes (the basic units of heredity) in the human cell. The
project has also mapped the location of these genes on the 23 pairs of
human chromosomes.

Why do Scientists conduct this HGP?

The genes control the functions of the human body.


Researchers believe that a map of the human
genome will revolutionise our understanding of the
mystery of life. It will help researchers pinpoint
specific genes on our chromosomes. This could
help curing genetic diseases like haemophilia and
cystic fibrosis. The knowledge will provide new
strategies to diagnose, treat, and possibly prevent
human diseases. Many scientists believe that the
key to cancer is an understanding of the genome.
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The Ethical, Legal and Social Issues brought about by the HGP

• Who should have access to personal genetic information, and how will it be used
- insurers, employers, courts, schools, adoption agencies, and the military,
among others?

• Who owns and controls genetic information?

• Do healthcare personnel properly counsel family members about the risks and
limitations of genetic technology?

• What are the societal issues raised by new reproductive technologies?

• Should testing be performed when no treatment is available?

• Do people's genes make them behave in a particular way?

• Where is the line between medical treatment and enhancement?

• Suppose you are the parent of a new baby, and every individual can have his or
her own genome mapped at birth. Would you have your child’s genome
mapped? Who should be allowed to see and use that map? What might
happen if it got into the wrong hands?

• Would you want to see your partner’s genome map before you planned to have
a child? Do we have the right to know that our partner is not going to knowingly
pass on abnormal genes?

References:

Minkoff, E.C. & Baker, P.J. (2001) Biology today: An issues approach (2nd
Ed.). NY: Garland Publishing.

Websites:

1. National Human Genome Research Institute


http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/HGP/
2. Human Genome Project Information
http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/
3. National Center for Biotechnology Information
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/