Human Genome Project (HGP)

DNA

The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international scientific project with an aim to determine the sequence of the human genome, and to identify and map about 20,000 to 25,000 genes that make up the human genome. The project is performed by government-sponsored research centres and universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Germany as well as by the Celera Corporation - a former business unit of the Applera Corporation which is from 2008 an independent publicly traded company that is focused on genetic sequencing and development of related technologies.

The HPG is not completed yet. The human genome was declared fully sequenced in 2007 but the scientists continue to work on the project in order to identify protein-coding genes and their function. The goal is to identify disease-causing genes and make the knowledge useful for development of more effective treatments. The Human Genome Project is, like it name suggests, focused on research of human genetic make-up but it also investigates genomes of other organisms such as laboratory mouse, E. coli and fruit fly.

The HGP was launched in 1990 but its roots date back to the mid-20th century when Francis H. C. Crick and James D. Watson described the helical structure of the DNA. For their discovery, the scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. Just as important was the development of the technique to sequence DNA by Fred Sanger in the 1970s. It paved the way to automatic sequencing in the 1980s that made human genome sequencing possible.

The project officially began in 1990 but it actually began in the mid-1980s under the coordination of the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 1988, James D. Watson was appointed the head of the National Center for Human Genome Research at the NIH. He resigned in 1992, two years after the Human Genome Project was officially launched and joined by the international geneticists, mainly in the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Germany.

The first years of the project were mostly devoted to development of technology for genome sequencing including more reliable and cheaper technologies for DNA handling, genetic mapping, etc. 10 years after its formal beginning, the researchers announced that they managed to sequence the majority of the human genome and in 2001, they completed a nearly complete draft of the human genome. However, it was declared finished only in 2007.

Although the Human Genome Project managed to sequence the human genome as well as paved the way to major advances in medicine and biotechnology, the work of the scientists is far from over. In fact, the interpretation of the data is still in the initial stage and the practical uses of the human genome sequence are still limited. Nevertheless, it was the HGP which played the key role in many practical applications including genetic testing that can be used to determine an individual’s predisposition to particular illnesses, neonatal screening for genetic disorders, forensic testing, etc. Of course, the project also dramatically improved the understanding of human biology.