Project (1).doc - Origins of the Human Genome Project...

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Origins of the Human Genome Project Robert Mullan Cook-Deegan* Introduction The earliest and most obvious applications of genome research are tests for genetic disorders, but less obvious diagnostic uses may prove at least as important, such as forensic uses to establish identity (to determine paternity, to link suspects of physical evidence of rape or murder, or as a molecular "dog-tag" in the military). Genome research also promises to find genes expeditiously, making the genetic approach attractive as a first step in the study not only of complex diseases, but also of normal biological function. Each new gene is a potential target for drug development -- to fix it when broken, to shut it down, to attenuate or amplify its expression, or to change its product, usually a protein. Finding a gene gives investigators a molecular handle on problems that have proven intractable. Faith that the systematic analysis of DNA structure will prove to be a powerful research tool underlies the rationale behind the genome project. Faith that that scientific power will translate to products, jobs and wealth underlies the recent substantial investments in private genome research startup companies and the diversification of pharmaceutical and agricultural research firms into genome research. The human genome project was borne of technology, grew into a science bureaucracy in the U.S. and throughout the world and is now being transformed into a hybrid academic and commercial enterprise. The next phase of the project promises to veer more sharply toward commercial application, exploiting the rapidly growing body of knowledge about DNA structure to the pursuit of practical benefits. The notion that most genetic information is embedded in the sequence of DNA base pairs comprising chromosomes is a central tenet of modern genetics. A rough analogy is to liken an organism's genetic code to computer code. The goal of the genome project, in this parlance, is to identify and catalog the 75,000 or more files (genes) in the software that direct construction of a self-modifying and self-replicating system -- a living organism. The main scientific justification for the genome project is not that it will explain all of biology. By the software analogy, studying the structure of DNA cannot directly approach problems of hardware -- cells and organs -- or of networks -- social and environmental interactions. Biology has from its inception made clear the importance of adaptability. The complexity of the brain and its connections, with tens of billions of cells and trillions of connections, or the immense adaptability of the immune system, responding to countless external threats (including infectious organisms) and internal disruptions (including cancer), make clear that the human body is more than the simple expression of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of genes. But genes are important and the direct study of DNA is emerging as the quickest route to discovering genes, understanding their actions and interactions and harnessing their power to practical uses.
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