Of all the maps ever created, perhaps the most fascinating of all is the one that reveals our genetic makeup.
The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health completed a map of the human genetic code in 2003 after 13 years of work. Since then, the world has had access to the identity and location of nearly 25,000 genes that make up our DNA.
Although the primary objective of the Human Genome Project was to understand the genetic makeup of the human species, the project mapped several nonhuman organisms, too, such as E. coli, the fruit fly and the laboratory mouse.
The DNA sequence is stored in databases available to anyone on the Internet. The U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (and sister organizations in Europe and Japan) has its information deposited in GenBank, along with sequences of known and hypothetical genes and proteins.
This massive database has provided the ability to supercharge the speed of genetic research. For example, it took nearly $50 million dollars and years of lab research to identify the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis in 1989. Today, someone could accomplish that same effort in just a matter of days with Internet connectivity and access to a laboratory DNA sequencer.
Information from the Human Genome Project is assisting in finding cures for diseases by using gene therapy, where normal genes will replace faulty copies. This is not a theory; color-blindness has already been cured in monkeys by a simple gene injection.
Ultimately, we each will have our own human genome map. It’ll be a bit expensive at first – say about $1,000 to have your entire genome sequenced when it becomes commercially available. Ultimately, the price could become $100 or less.
The benefits of having this map of your own genes are many. Most importantly, you would know which diseases you’re at risk for, and with the help of your physician you could create a truly personal unique medical plan to keep yourself at optimum wellness.
On the other hand, several organizations have raised concerns about possible misuse of genetic data, ranging from discrimination in employment and insurance to the engineering of a “master race” of super humans. Clearly, scientists must proceed with ethical caution as applications of the project move forward.
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