ArticleDownload Worksheet July 7th, 2010
The Human Genome Project, A Decade Later
Ten years ago, top scientists from around the world participating in the Human Genome Project declared that they had cracked almost the entire human genetic code (DNA), therefore essentially opening the “key of life.”
Then-President Bill Clinton predicted the findings would “revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.” It was hailed as the most significant scientific discovery since evolution.
The decade since has seen a number of advances, and hundreds of sites on the human genome have been linked with diseases, including various kinds of cancer.
But developing cures has proven difficult, and some researchers now believe that genetic mutations, or changes in our DNA, may not usually have a direct cause-and-effect relationship with disease.
“It’s one thing to scan through the genome and identify a pathway that seems to be involved in cancer. It’s another to take that information and come up with a magic bullet that you could give to a patient with leukemia or lung cancer to try to turn that around,” explained Dr. Francis S. Collins, who led the U.S. Genome Project and is currently the director of the National Institutes of Health.
Genes are patterns in our A, T, C and G
The Human Genome Project actually began a decade before the human genome was mapped. In 1990, the U.S. Department of Energy teamed up with the National Institutes of Health to identify all the genes in human DNA, store all information in databases, share key discoveries with the private sector and address any ethical, legal and social issues that arose during the project.
DNA is comprised of four chemicals, called bases and labeled A, T, C, and G. Different organisms, as diverse as animals, humans, plants, trees and mushrooms growing in the forest, are made up of the same chemicals, but in different patterns.
Human genomes have three billion pairs of bases which fall into about 23,500 identifiable groups called genes. The patterns organize how our body works by spelling out “recipes” for making essential proteins that determine many things such as how we fight infections and repair damaged cells.
Even though a strand of human DNA is very small – about the size of a nematode worm — about 1/10,000 the width of a human hair — it is very complex and helps determine our unique characteristics such as skin complexion, eye/hair color, height and personality traits.
Breakthroughs in cancer, Alzheimer’s
Although project leader Collins admits that progress towards revolutionizing health care has been slow, the Human Genome Project has had several milestones over the past two decades. Scientists have identified specific genes that break down certain proteins which have been helpful in identifying the causes of diseases such as types of cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Breakthroughs have also occurred in developing new drugs and genetic tests for breast cancer patients.
Scientists were able to determine how genes are switched “on” and “off”, which could lead to preventative treatments for diseases inherited from your parents.
While progress has been “slow,” Dr. Collins says that “in another 15 to 20 years, you will see a complete transformation in therapeutic medicine” as more people have their DNA sequenced and applied to their medical records.
In the meantime, Collins points out that the project has empowered scientists beyond anything imagined in 1990.
“A graduate student working in biology today cannot imagine how you did research without having access to the sequence of the human genome. It is so fundamental. It’s something you’re looking at on your computer many times a day to guide your experiments. It is just the foundation of everything we do,” he explained.
–Compiled by Imani Cheers for NewsHour Extra
Submit Your Student Voice
Tooltip of RSS content 3
Lesson Plan: How to create a balanced budget — it’s a ‘Balancing Act’
How do we know that our government is fulfilling its duties to us, the public? How do we decide what those duties are? As efforts to pass the federal budget get underway, students will have the power to re-prioritize how money is spent using the interactive tool Balancing Act. What changes will they make? Continue readingBalancing ActBudgetbusiness educationEconomicseconomyfederal budgetFederal GovernmentGovernment & CivicshistoryPresidentSocial StudiesState Governmenttaxes
Young conservatives: Climate change is an issue for all of us
There is a growing movement among young conservatives, including evangelical Christians, who support environmental regulations. They say it’s important to act as faithful stewards of the earth. One group, the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has grown to 10,000 members in the past five years. Continue readingcarbon taxChristianityclimate changeclimate scienceconservatismconservativeevangelicalfossil fuelsGlobal WarmingGovernment & CivicsideologyPoliticsReligionScienceSocial Studies
Should seat belts be mandatory on school buses?
School districts around the country are debating whether or not to require seat belts on school buses. Requiring seat belts comes at a high cost for school districts already struggling with tight budgets. Continue readingbusDebateenglishEnglish & Language ArtsMaking the Gradeschool busschool busesschool safetyseat beltSocial Studies
Lesson plan: What’s your “Brief but Spectacular” take?
Every Thursday night, the PBS NewsHour profiles people and their passions in the series Brief but Spectacular. Creator Steve Goldbloom and his producing partner Zach Land-Miller wanted to find a new way to share original voices the public might otherwise not see. Now you can join the fun… Continue readingbrief but spectacularELAenglishEnglish & Language ArtsEnglish language learnersfilmIdentitySocial Studiesvideo
Lesson Plan: Storm chasing reveals clues to our weather future
Storm chasing: We do not recommend you try this at home! The top 208 weather…climate changeenvironmentenvironmental scienceextreme weatherNGSSScienceSRLSTEMstorm chasingstorms