Scientists used Watson and Crick’s structure of the DNA molecule as a tool for future research. In the early 1980’s scientists had an idea to begin mapping human DNA. Scientists at the Department of Energy’s national weapon research centers in Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore were interested in determining whether the DNA of the offspring of survivors of the Hiroshima bomb were mutated because of their exposure to radiation. Their only way of finding this out was to begin sequencing and studying the cells. In 1982 they attended a scientific conference in Colorado and introduced their proposal for finding out their answers. Their original proposal was modified after its introduction but it laid the foundation for the beginning stages of the Human Genome Project.
The project officially began in 1990 and became an international project when scientists from eighteen other countries got involved. They included Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, European Union, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. Their alliance formed the HUGO- Human Genome Organization. The United States Department of Energy led by Ari Patrios and the National Institute of Health led by Francis Collins along with scientists from various French agencies are at the helm of the research.
While reading the daily newspapers one can begin to understand the excitement generated by the project. Titles such as, “Scientists Plan: Map All DNA”, “Who Owns the Human Genome”, and “Genetic Questions are Sending Judges Back to the Classroom” are found on the front pages and beyond (7). The major goal of the project is to “produce a listing, base pair by base pair, of the entire human genetic code - all twenty-three chromosomes pairs with about three billion base pairs. The base by base survey is called sequencing and locating the genes along the DNA is called mapping” (8). This possible information uncovered through this process could help scientists understand and eventually cure genetic diseases.
“A genome is the sum total of genetic information in a living species” (9). The genetic information includes instructions for making proteins. Proteins are essential for all living things because they include instructions for how an organism looks, metabolize food and fight infections. “The code itself is a “series of codons” which is a sequence of three DNA bases” (10). The order of the bases is quite important. Sometimes there are abnormalities on DNA. These abnormalities are called mutations and are sometimes responsible for a number of diseases. Again, it is the hope of this project that scientists will be able to isolate disease-causing genes and suggest a therapy or treatment to correct them.
On April 6, 2000 an article in The New York Times reported that, “The Analysis of Human Genome is Said to be Completed.” The report, made by Dr. J Craig Venter stated that within a few weeks his company, Celera, would be able to identify the whole human genome. To actually assemble the whole thing it will take until 2003. Venter, one of the pioneers of the Human Genome Project reported that the genome belongs to a man because it has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome as opposed to the genome of a woman, which has two X chromosomes. The DNA in the study includes men and women of differing age and race. After it is put together it will be annotated, identifying all of the genes and their capabilities. Worried about the information gained from this and its potential Dr Venter said, “it would take a century to understand what each human gene does and that an attempt to alter the human germ line should not be made until then if ever” (11). Celera will use technology to attempt to find a faster way to sequence the DNA and expand the knowledge of genetics. The gene samples are from a variety of subjects who donated samples of blood cells and sperm cells. “This sampling works well because everyone has a unique DNA sequence but variations for 2 different genomes is said to be less than 1%” (12). The project has opened up enormous competition between the U.S Government and biotechnology companies.
Through the identification of genes and map-making capabilities of the human genome. “Recombinant DNA Technology allows researchers to snip out pieces of DNA and splice them into bacteria, where they can be grown, or cloned in large quantities”(13). Scientists use a variety of methods to copy genetic materials. “ A clone is a group of identical molecules, cells or organisms that are descended from a common ancestor through asexual reproduction” (14). In asexual reproduction, the offspring come from only one parent; so all cells contain the same genetic material. The members of a clone may be regarded as extensions of a single individual. Although cloning is not a new subject it has received a lot of negative publicity because of its comparison to science fiction. Scientific cloning has provided scientists with enormous capabilities for studying cancer, aging, genetic disorders and agriculture.