is this project?
The HUMAN GENOME PROJECT has been in
the press a lot recently. This project is designed as an
International effort to decipher the genetic code (Deoxyribonucleic
Acid (DNA) base pair sequence) that forms the blueprint for
the very existence of life.
What are the benefits of this
multi-billion dollar investment?
The potential advantages include:
The identification of genes
(specific sequences of the DNA blueprint) that might be
faulty and manufacture for example wrong proteins etc
which lead to disease. Through genetic screening and
gene splicing, we may be able to cure previously
incurable genetic conditions such as Huntingdon's
chorea, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, maybe even
The identification of the process
behind cell immortality i.e. formation of tumour
(cancerous) cell that keeps dividing and theoretically
The identification of the process
of cell aging (limited mortality) and therefore
potentially improve the life-span
But these advantages are still a long
way ahead and what about the disadvantages:
The deciphering of the blueprint
could open up the possibility of racial discrimination
and the not so past debate on Eugenics and the master
race so popular during the colonial expansions and
recent Nazi and Fascist regimes.
The possibility of creating new
life and dangers associated with manipulating and
causing misbalance in the ecosystem are possible.
There are a number of other possible
long term dangers (as in nuclear power) which may
outweigh the short term advantages. However, there is very
little actual debate on the possibility of manipulating
human genes although the debate on genetically modified
foods (GM or Frankenstein foods) is hotting up. The reasons
for this could be that the business behind this Project is
enormous and there is also the clamour to patent the genes
for profit. There is also the view by the Scientific
community that they know best and are doing the right thing
for the poor ignorant man in the street.
Blueprints for Life
The studies will
eventually give enough information to enable scientists to
create a new blueprint for life. The studies being carried
out at the moment follow two different types of strategies
1. The top-down and 2. The bottom-up approach.
the top-down approach the aim is to determine how many and
which of the many genes are needed for the existence of the
organism For example, 517 genes are thought to be necessary
for the Mycoplasma
genitalium (the smallest gene complement of any
independently replicating organism).
the bottom up approach, the data gathered from the first
phase, is used to synthesize a live organism from the ground
up. Thus the scientist could combine genes in the blueprint
to create a living mycoplasma but could subtly change the
sequence to make it more resistant to toxins etc. This
approach can also be used in the future to modify existing
species or try to recreate a extinct species like dinosaurs.
Of course, modifying the gene structure of an organism does
not guarantee either what a organism will look like or
behave since a great part of the developmental process is
linked to the environmental factors. Thus adding genes for
extra brain tissue to the monkey blueprint does not
guarantee a more smart monkey.
Everybody should join
the debate to decide the future of this technology. It is
even more powerful that the Nuclear technology since it will
change the very essence of life itself.
Please Put Your Comments
at the Discussion
Minimal Genome Project How
Many Genes Are Necessary to Sustain Life?
Foods- An exhibition looking at genetically modified food
Greenpeace site on GM food
A "JUMPING GENE" being used to genetically engineer
organisms has crossed the species barrier at least seven times
in evolutionary history, in one instance between flies and
humans, according to a study commissioned by the British
mosquitoes to fight malaria