Here’s what I learned about the human genome project from the NIH Record:
- Dr. Eric Green launched an 11-lecture series on Current Topics in Genome Analysis. He talked about the history of genetic research from Mendel to the present
- the human genome has 3 billion base pairs … he compared the way to break it all down to an encyclopedia with pages, books, and volumes
- The Human Genome Project officially ended October, 2004. Dr. Eric Green says, “Now the challenge is the application of genomics to human health”
- There are still small parts — “… centromeres and other parts of chromosomes still can’t be fully recovered” — of the human genome that are not mapped yet
- Dr. Green: “Completely interpreting the human genome sequence may take decades. It is a huge undertaking”
- The experts know that 5% of our genome is common to all mammals. This is about 150 million base pairs — no one knows where those base pairs are
- RNA functions are not mapped — so lots of functions remain unknown. The experts are comparing human genome to other mammals to find answers
- ENCODE is a project whose goal is to find out what the parts of the human genome actually do
- Humans all have approximately 99.7% of the same genes. The remaining .3% (about 3 to 5 million pairs) are different. Dr. Green: “Most [variants] are innocent and have no phenotypic consequence, but some are metaphorical bombs”
- using GWAS (genome-wide associations studies), Dr. Green says that, “regions conferring risk often reflect non-coding parts of the genome…the non-coding functional landscape is of great interest in many labs now”
- it’s getting cheaper and cheaper to sequence the human genome [OPINION ALERT: Glad capitalism still works]
- analyzing all the incredible amounts of data is a huge challenge to experts [OPINION ALERT: I feel that way trying to keep up with current events]
Here’s the full lecture — I made it through 15 minutes or so before I had to attend a meeting — it was very interesting. He did a great job with the history of Genome Research and explaining the unexplainable:
On a related side-note: I am a firm believer that our basic personality types are encoded in our genes. What we do is up to us, of course — I also believe we choose to be healthy or unhealthy beings.
Anyway, I hope we see some groundbreaking gene research related to the field of psychology someday.
Also — for individuals with rare genetic defects like my son, I certainly hope that gene therapy continues to improve. I spoke with one expert recently who said that someday, perhaps a decade from now, we’ll be able to map someone’s genome, figure out what’s wrong, and use gene therapy to cure the defect. He talked about how we’ll look back at this time and joke about our crude methods.
From what I understand, gene therapy is a pretty radical concept. It involves viruses entering cells to reprogram the DNA — something like that.
I sure hope the scientists of our time are up to the challenge.