The Human Genome Project



Walter Gilbert who is a molecular biologist became interested in undertaking the Human Genome Project (HGP) in 1987. Robert Kanigel of the New York Times Magazine wrote "This project ... would reveal the precise biochemical makeup of the entire genetic material, or genome, of a human being ... it would grant insight into human biology previously held only by god.” (McMurry, 758) The plan was to create a map or library of human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). About the same time the United States government began taking an interest with the HGP.
In the United States of America the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health were the main research agencies involved with the HGP. These two agencies were involved in developing and planing the project in the US government. By 1988 the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health were working together, a relationship formalized by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. This agreement was simply to coordinate research and technical activities related to the human genome. The initial planning process culminated in 1990 with the publication of a joint research plan, ‘Understanding Out Genetic Inheritance: The U.S. Human Genome Project the First Five Years FY 1991-1995.’ The goal of the HGP is to generate a series of tools that will change biological research.
The complete nucleotide sequence of human DNA is approximately 50,000 to 100,000 genes in the human genome. The Human Genome Project estimated to take ten to twenty years to complete. During this time its anticipated that physical and genetic maps of the human genome will be completed. The scientific products of the HGP will comprise a resource of genomic maps and DNA sequence information that will provide detailed information about the structure, organization and characteristics of human DNA. This information constitutes the basic set of inherited “instructions” for the development and functioning of a human being. The next phase of the project focused on the sequencing of DNA.
Information required by a cell stored is in the nucleus. Encoded into the structure of the nucleus are DNA molecules called chromosomes. This information allows the cell to replicate, differentiate into all the different cells that comprise a human, interact with other cells, respond to threat and replace damaged tissue. An understanding of the information stored in the chromosomes will give biologists insight into how the cell functions. The basis of the HGP is the decoding of all information stored in the chromosomal DNA. This part of the project is known as DNA sequencing. There are 3 billion residues, or bases, in the human genome and the order of these bases that encodes the biological information. As a prelude to the main act of sequencing the human genome, many more simple organisms have their genomes sequenced. These include many bacteria and viruses as well as yeast.
Gilbert and Allan Maxam collaborated on a procedure that broke DNA into fragments that made them easier to describe. They needed to do this while working on the (HGP). Then Gilbert and Maxam worked on a procedure to separate the fragments. Gilbert pioneered a technique known as gel electrophoresis. This technique (when an electric current) causes the DNA fragment to pass through a gel substance. Exposure of the DNA fragments to an X-ray film allows the fragment and the chemical code to be identified. Accomplishing the idea of being able to alter the genetic composition of a cell opened up many possibilities, other then to use this procedure in the HGP. One example of how this technology could be used was the curing or the eradication of many diseases. Accomplishing this procedure lead the business community to take an interest in this technology.
To sequence the human genome, maps of the chromosomes based on the DNA of the chromosomes are constructed. These maps known as physical maps, a series of overlapping pieces of DNA. These pieces of DNA are ordered as they would appear in the human genome and are used as the templates for the sequencing project. Scientists found that they needed to patent their work because their breakthroughs may take years to obtain.
That plan set out a set of specific goals for the first five years of the research project. The research community focused their efforts on the