Few scientific achievements of the twentieth century in the field of biology have as much significance as the completion of the Human Genome Project. Completed almost fifty years after the discovery of the DNA double helix and two years after the cloning of Dolly the sheep; no one, just a few years ago would be guessed that in a few short years we would have a complete documented human genome. A genome is all the genetic material in any given organism. The purpose of the Human Genome Project was to document a complete human genome. Every human cell contains a nucleus in which chromosomes are stored. Humans have twenty-three chromosomes. Twenty-two is autosomes, which are responsible for all the inherited characteristics of an organism and one is a sex chromosome.
Each cell had two pairs of these chromosomes one from each of its parents. The two sex chromosomes determine the sex of an organism XX being female and XY being male. Genetic material is stored in the form of Chromosomes in the nuclei of cells. Each chromosome contains thousands of genes. Every snippet of genetic information is programmed into a DNA double helix with only the four nucleotides of adenine, cytosine, thymine, and guanine. The final result of the Human Genome Project was many thousand-page books of all the DNA in one human being. The code for DNA is organized into three-nucleotide segments, which code for one of twenty different amino acids. The point of DNA is to code for proteins and enzymes, which are both made up of amino acids. Therefore, one strand of DNA can program for one protein, interesting as well because it takes protein to create DNA.
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One interesting thing scientist discovered during this process was that a large amount of DNA seemed dormant and was unused; scientists are still trying to figure out the point of this seemingly excess DNA. The US Department of Energy started the Human Genome Project in 1990 but due to the slow pace private industry started their own project and a race ensued between them for a rough draft of the human genome. The private industry project finished only marginally before the governments and both are vowing to put this information to good use. The cells were taken from a variety of different races and their results will be compared so they can research any discrepancies. This all seems to a great achievement of modern science but at this point, one has to invariably ask the question “What’s the point?”
The question can be answered in many ways, the completion of the genome has almost unlimited possibilities in treating almost all hereditary diseases and other genetic mutations, but with these advances comes a new host of ethical questions. For instance, would an insurance company give you a plan if your genes told of possible risk for cancer or heart disease? Many scientists believe that there is a gene for every trait and disorder that humans have, and by editing that person’s genes in vitro or completing gene therapy later in life these traits could be taken away or edited to specifications. If it was known that a baby would have a predisposition to a hereditary disorder such a haemophilia a geneticist could simply turn that gene off and save the soon to be person from having any problems later in life. On the other end of the spectrum are changes made for purely cosmetic reasons, for instance why dye your hair when you can just go down to your local geneticist and get your hair colour genetically altered?
The idea of creating genetically superior humans is not a new one. Since ancient times scientists and authors have written about societies where the smart and beautiful have children with each other to create extremely talented human beings. With new advances in genetic screening and the ability, the edit genes at will a possibility in the future many people warn about messing with what nature created. Personally, I believe this is a milestone in history and possible drawbacks aside I believe that the human genome truly has the potential to revolutionize not only medicine but the world. Humans have explored every inch of our planet and travelled into the stars but yet we still have a lot of trouble figuring out how things in our body actually work, I think that with the completion of the human genome and extensive research we will finally be able to answer those questions.
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