Decoding The Human Genome Impact

The human genome refers to the all of the genetic information contained in human DNA. So decoding the human genome describes the process of mapping out each piece of this genetic information in order to create a blueprint of a human’s genes.

By having a precise diagram of the basic elements that make up a human, researchers can work on identifying the source of and finding cures for a number of diseases and conditions that currently have limited, if any treatment options.

The Human Genome Project

In 1990, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health began the Human Genome Project (HGP), a program that intended to map out over 20,000 human genes contained within DNA. Within the first few years of this project, countries from all over the world jumped on board to help contribute to this massive undertaking. Some of the contributing international partners included England, France, Germany and Japan.

Along with identifying the tens of thousands of genes in human DNA, other goals of the HGP included:

  • examining the resulting ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) associated with having a blueprint for a human
  • identifying the billions of chemical base pairs that comprise DNA
  • including all uncovered information in functional databases
  • passing off all improved technologies to private institutions.

Although the HGP officially finished identifying the components of the human genome in 2003, the vast amount of data produced will take years to analyze.

What the Human Genome Contains

Over the 13 to 14 years in which the Human Genome Project continued, researchers all over the world were able to uncover some fascinating information about our genetic makeup: The human genome is made up of about 3 billion chemical base pairs held in roughly 100,000 genes that are contained within 23 chromosomes.

Scientific Definitions

Here are the definitions of some basic biology terms that will provide an idea of how our basic genetic information is stored in our bodies:

  • Chemical base pairs refer to organic compounds that contain nitrogen (also know as nucleotides) and are weakly bound together by a hydrogen atom. The nucleotides that can make up chemical base pairs include adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) or cytosine (C).
  • Chromosomes are genetic structures containing an organism’s DNA. Chromosomes can reproduce themselves.
  • Genes are pieces of DNA chains contained on chromosomes. The genes a being inherits from its parents will determine various features of that being as it develops.

Impact of Decoding the Human Genome

The decades of research scientists around the world have invested in decoding the human genome can have an enormous impact on us in a variety of ways, which can include helping us to:

  • design medications that can better work with our bodies (Some even talk of creating “customize” medications that could be tailored to individual patients based on their unique genetic structures.)
  • enhance doctors’ abilities to diagnose diseases
  • provide clues to which genes predispose people to certain diseases.

However, while creating a blueprint of humans’ genetic information can do a lot to help us prevent and treat a number of diseases and conditions, there are some associated downsides. For example, some speculate that eventually “designer” doctors will be able to tinker with a fetus’ developing genetic structure. They will have the ability to alter eye and hair color, height and other features based on parents’ preferences.

Consequently, as scientists continue to analyze the overwhelming amounts of information uncovered by the Human Genome Project, many others are working on ways to limit the potentially negative impact of decoding the human genome.

Resources

Haury, David L. (December 2001). Learning About the Human Genome. Retrieved January 9, 2008 from: http://209.85.173.104/search?q=cache:2RRjZvGdIKQJ:www.ericse.org/digests/EDO-SE-01-04.pdf impact of decoding genome&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=25&gl=us.

Human Genome Project Information (updated July 17, 2007). Human Genome Project Information. Retrieved January 9, 2008 from the HGP Information Website: http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/home.shtml.