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The Human Genome Project: Why, What, and How

By Anagha Dogiparthi

I was in sixth grade when I was first introduced to the Human Genome, and it opened up an entirely new realm of scientific terminology and discoveries. Until this point, I was used to doing the famous rotting teeth experiment with an egg or creating an “explosion” with soda and mentos. So why were we moving on to these strange new words- and what did they even mean?

Namely, one of the most prominent strange new phrases was the Human Genome Project- something that was the center of the science world for over a decade. If you still don’t believe me about how much of a big deal it was, the United States invested $3.8 billion into the project’s advancement.t. That’s about equivalent to nineteen thousand of the newly released Lamborghinis! Although many people have heard of the phrase “Human Genome Project,” they don’t really know how to answer the three most important questions: Why does the Human Genome Project matter, and what were its goals? Was the Human Genome Project successful? What is the significance of the results collected from the Human Genome Project? If you’re one of those people, you needn’t worry: this article will make it really easy to learn.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is basically a long molecule that contains our unique genetic code. DNA is made up of a combination of “base pairs,” which are represented by four different letters: A, G, C, and T. Even though scientists knew this much up until pursuing the Genome Project, they didn’t exactly know in what order the base pairs were arranged for the entire genome. This may not seem like much of a big deal to you and me, but the order is crucial when actually being executed. To be precise, it can be thought of as the basic set of inheritable instructions for the development and function of a human being.

Base Pairs Image (ACGT Play Audio)

Now that you have a vague idea of what the Human Genome Project really aimed to do, let’s get into the main goals that they had when beginning it. According to the Human Genome Project Information Archive, this included “identify[ing] all the approximately 20,500 genes in human DNA, determin[ing] the sequences of 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA, stor[ing] the information in databases, improv[ing] tools for data analysis, transfer[ring] related technologies to the private sector, and address[ing] the ethical, legal, and social issues that may arise from the project”. These may seem like a lot of goals, but in reality, they’re all connected and could truly change the way scientists approached genetics as a whole.

So far,you’ve only been learning about the background behind this famous project- but you must be curious about how the project was actually executed. With all this build-up, could it really have been successful?

The short answer to that question is yes, it was actually extremely successful. Not only was almost every single goal drafted prior to the creation of the project achieved, but many “side” issues also took one step forward to the process of being resolved. There were even some “bonus” accomplishments that scientists didn’t think that they’d be able to get to, but they eventually did due to the time and effort they had put into other areas of the project. Some of these include an advanced draft of the mouse genome sequence, an initial draft of the rat genome sequence, the identification of more than 300 million human genetic variations, and the generation of full-length complementary DNAs for more than 70% of known human and mouse genes.

Cancer Image - (Cancer)

To be more specific in the category of “side” issues, let’s take cancer as an example. Before the Human Genome Project was finalized, people did not know much about cancer and its origins- they simply knew it was bad and had the potential to kill, along with some small snippets of genetic information. However, the Human Genome Project helped advance that information ten-fold, helping people all over the world.

Additionally, according to Genome.Gov, “doctors can now test the patient’s genome for relevant variants. In doing so, the appropriate dose of clopidogrel or a more expensive medication that does not require activation can be prescribed.”

As for what we can do with the information collected from the Human Genome Project, the possibilities are endless. Even in the limited time that has passed from the final stages of the project to now, there have been many findings and discoveries that have saved thousands. Who knows what will come next?

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