Essay: Planet’s Largest Joint Biological Program : HGP

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  • Subject area(s): Science essays
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  • Published on: July 28, 2019
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Human DNA is naturally intriguing concept, and the Human Genome Project, HGP which according to Wikipedia is the planet’s largest joint biological program aims at creating a complete and accurate sequence of the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up the human genome i.e. determining the order of occurrence of base pairs in the DNA segment and to find all of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 human genes. The database of DNA sequences is available to everyone through the internet. The goal of the project is to determine the chemical base pair sequences which compose the DNA and to identify the genes that human genome contains.

The HGP was proposed and funded by the US government. Other research centers and agencies from the UK, Germany, Japan, France, and China contributed towards the sequencing. The planning of the project started in 1980’s, and initially tried to map the nucleotides which are present in the human genome. In more formal words, the goal can be summarized as “produce a sequence [that] contains the genetic code that sits at the core of every one of the ten trillion cells in each human being”. In addition to it, the project also developed tools to understand and analyze data. This project has allowed us to begin to understand the procedure for building a person. Which can have a major impact on medicine and life sciences.

Even though significant progress has been made, the project is claimed to be completed in 2003, two years ahead of the schedule, however these are just estimates. These advances have only been possible because of the help of evolution of technology. With faster and state-of-the-art supercomputers, recording these sequences has become an easier task for scientists in the modern century.

The Human Genome Project was a large project and required a lot of resources, however if there are results to show, then the investment was and is justified. This project basically provides a manual for the building and maintenance of human body. The genetic advances through this project can have impact on individuals and society, so exploring the consequences of it is also part of the project, under their Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) program. Through this paper, I would like to justify the running of the Human Genome Project through some case studies as well showing the other side of the debate. I personally would like to see more of new discoveries through this project because this is a unique effort and holds a lot of potential for the future.

Technologies and Investments

To successfully be able to understand and analyze high level, complex DNA molecules the HGP needed advanced DNA technologies. This was a generalized requirement and required decent amount of funding for it to be successful. At the time, there was a lot of speculation regarding the project and a debate started. To improve its sustained effort and to improve our ability to analyze complex DNA molecules advanced DNA technologies are required.

As mentioned before, essential technologies were needed for the success of the Human Genome Project, which otherwise would have slowed the progress of the project. BAC (Bacterial artificial chromosome) cloning which paved the way for creating molecular maps, Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) which was used to map library clones to specific chromosomal regions, CTAB-DNA precipitation method which allowed preparation of template DNA from phagemids, phages and plasmids on a small scale which are suitable for human DNA sequencing, A-DNA sequencer which is a completely automated sequencer, and Autoradiography which allowed sequenced DNA segments to be visible for further study. All these technologies and innovations created a lot of progress in the project but required many resources and the cost of those resources will only be justified if the Human genome project lives up to it’s expectations. This rapid upward curve in the innovation of such technologies has led to survival of the HGP as it produced much better results, met it’s promised deadline with much more ease, and produced many success stories.

The main reason for the successful completion of the Human Genome was that it allowed investments and help from the researchers and collaborators all over the world moving beyond the borders in an effort to understand the heritage of our molecules and also to benefit from the techniques and approaches provided by researchers all over the world.

The Debate

The HGP is a project undoubtedly of high demands in terms of resources. This was known from the start but as better technologies have come in, the HGP has shown more and more potential. However, from an ethical point of view, many critics even today have cracked down on the project. The main reason for this been the timeline of the project and the expenses that go with it. This has led to some modifications towards the plan of the project. Since, the original proposal was to sequence the whole human genome, this has been modified to only mapping of the genome instead of sequencing of the genome. Now, the priority for sequencing the genome has been notably reduced, and the efforts toward it will only be increased if more money comes in for the research. This unimportance is primarily for the non-coding regions for which sequencing may not so worthwhile, and this makes up 95% of the human genome. Another argument against the HGP is that the funding of such large scale projects diverts the resources from individuals who may be able to work on this more efficiently. This graph is showing the funding towards the HGP till 2002.

Though it was estimated by the US government that the project would cost 3 billion dollars, but due to other investments and the techniques it costed 2.7 billion dollars for the U.S government.

However, in my opinion this argument is not very strong as it has been seen in the past that more coordinated efforts have lead to better results, and in this case the efforts are definitely needed on a large scale because of the task at hand.

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