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What Is the Effect of the Knowledge Gained Through the Mapping of the Human Genome on Society?

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What is the effect of the knowledge gained through the mapping of the human genome on society?

Human genetics has remained a mysterious and spotty subject throughout history. The farther the human race advances, the more it learns and the more details it is able to clarify. Now, man has come to create a method of mapping out the complex and massive information stored within himself in order to better understand and further the health and lives of those around him. In the following text is explained the Human Genome Project, what it is and what it has accomplished; an objective view of the advantages to this research as well as the possible disadvantages that have arisen throughout the process. What are the long term effects of the work, and how will they influence the lives of ordinary people medically? Practically? And do the pros outweigh the cons? This paper is intended to support the idea that the mapping of the human genome through the Human Genome Project will ultimately have more benefits than deterrents to medical science and life as it is known today.

In 1990, a government funded research team set out on what has been considered one of the greatest and most significant endeavors of the century; the complete mapping of the human genome. A genome is essentially all of the DNA in any given organism, including its genes, the subject of this particular study being the human body. The Human Genome Project (HGP) was a study designed principally to identify and record all of the genes in human DNA (approximately 20,000-25,000+ on the 40+ human chromosomes) so as to better understand heredity patterns and the functions of DNA (Human Genome Project Information website).

With a complete map of the human genome, a plethora of new possibilities for the advancement of medical science arise. The key players involved in this massive undertaking include Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the government founded project, and Dr. Craig Ventor, the head of a competing project whose goal was to map the human genome faster and to a higher degree of accuracy than the HGP. Ventor's extreme claim turned out to be quite justified as the HGP ended up having to borrow and copy some of the research that Ventor's group had developed simply to keep from being left far behind. Because of his revolutionary contribution to the research, Ventor has come to be known as the "Grandfather of modern genetics" (Lemonick and Thompson). The collaboration of the projects resulted in the Human genome being 99% mapped to a 99.99% degree of accuracy three years before the original intended completion date of 2005.

From the research have risen many new techniques for medicating and analyzing the human body. One of these techniques involves being able to completely map out any given persons genome incredibly accurately. As the research continues, access to this process is becoming more and more open. With a complete map of ones DNA, scientists will be able to identify any known disease related nucleotides which will help them in administering the correct and most effective treatments to patients already suffering from a disease as well as help them discover the probability of them passing on the gene to any offspring. This mapping can also help to discover the disease causing gene long before it ever shows up or the person begins to display symptoms.

While treatments and vaccines have not yet been discovered for every disease the HGP has made it possible for scientists to identify more than 14,000 of disease causing genes, helping to increase the understanding of the causes as well as begin to develop new forms of cures. It has also laid the groundwork for discovering gene sequences thereby allowing scientists to map out the codes for other organisms. With these, they are able to determine the differences in the genomes and identify those that are critical for life. The types of gene-level cures that could be found from this research could prove to be priceless to those suffering from terminal illnesses, and likewise for those who are in danger of passing on or inheriting gene related disorders such as diabetes, mental illness, and heart disorders (Human Genome Project Information website).

Gene therapy is the form of cures and preventions that the mapping of the genome will help make possible by changing the expression of a gene that may cause illness or disease. "[Gene Therapy] involves finding the bad gene and replacing it with a good one, a bit like stretching out a string of Christmas lights, looking for a bad bulb, and replacing it" (Cabot). With this new form of treatment, many known illness will be able to be cured, however, the diagnosis is often available before the cure. This raises some issues of the mental stability and affect that this knowledge could have on someone who is found to carry a disease that a cure has not yet been discovered for. But with the continuing research, cures are only so far behind the advanced diagnoses.

When dealing with the foundations of human genetics, one cannot proceed without raising the issues of many debates, most often those of an ethical nature. ""I spend as much of my time on these issues as I do on basic science issues," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project" (Witham). On the topic of manipulating genetics there are going to be many very excited as well as those very opposed and frightened of the doors that it could open. Many believe that human genetics are not something to be messed with, that nature should be allowed to run its course and that manipulating genes in any way would be a crime against nature. These arguments are expectable and hardly original when it comes to the study of human genetics, but arguing against research that could lead to almost miraculous cures and medical advancement seems ill educated and often elementary.

One of the specific disadvantages to all the knowledge gained from the HGP and the possibility of genetic profiling becoming easily accessible and affordable is the potential for future genetic discrimination. Employers could decide not to hire a person based on their genetic makeup or health insurance benefits



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