Explain What Is Meant By The Human Genome Project

A gene is a length of DNA that codes for a protein, and the word genome means all the genes that are present in an organism. The Human Genome Project was set up in 1990 in order to establish the entire gene sequence of a Human. It was an international project headed by James Watson, Watson had earlier helped determine the structure of DNA. The original predicted finishing date was by 2010, but by spreading the work load throughout different countries, several advancements in the techniques of decoding DNA and private funding from drug companies the project has already been finished.

The hope that with a better understanding of our genome, it would be easier to treat genetic disorders, was one of the major driving forces behind the project. But not necessarily for the patients but more for the drug companies who saw great opportunities with the code. This is because in return for sponsorship they were allowed to patent part of the genome, they saw this as a source of great income. Because with the knowledge and rights to the DNA code they could replicate some naturally occurring drugs, e. g. nsulin, which are very expensive to produce otherwise.

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The legal problem here is whether or not it is right for a company to ‘own’ the ‘recipe’ for humans. In effect, every time that insulin, or anything else that’s code is ‘owned’ by a company, is reproduced then you are breaking copyright laws, this is obviously ridiculous, and these patents are sure to be declared void sometime in the near future. Should a company own part of the human genome, the code for life? This is just one issue raised by this project.

An ethical and moral issue is that with the whole genome mapped it could possible to pick and choose most characteristics for your children using germ cell gene therapy when they are single cells – a fertilised egg. The plus points with this are that you would be able to dispose of genetic disorders by replacing ‘faulty’ alleles, but the ‘buzz’ word at the moment is designer babies. This simply means designing your baby to your specification, e. g. hair colour, eye colour, sex etc.

One problem with this is that it would be a very expensive procedure, and therefore only the richer members of society could afford it. This could lead to some very large social problems; i. e. it could lead to a social underclass, with the genetic information of each individual being used by schools when deciding to accept a new pupil. And then if that person didn’t have ‘good intelligence genes’ then the school could simply say no to them. With the inevitable advances in germ cell gene therapy then it may be possible to ‘design’ babies for a specific career, e. . making them athletic etc for an athlete, which could end up with your job being decided for you before you’re even born!! Obviously there are other problems, to mention but one major religions are mostly opposed to genetically modifying the human genome. This is because in most religions life is considered a gift from God, and by changing the genome of a germ cell you are playing God yourself, which is considered wrong because this is supposed to leave God to do his work without interference.

This is going to be one of the major stumbling blocks for those who want this kind of ‘treatment’ to be available. Religion also faces a major problem because if the DNA is decoded, then where is the ‘spirit’ supposed to be. The human ‘spirit’ is a major factor of most religions so without it then what would happen to religion? Because only a small percentage of DNA is used for actually coding for the proteins, there have been suggestions that the ‘spirit’ could be made up of the DNA that does not code for a protein, this is the only theory that can currently “allow there” to be a ‘spirit’.

One major social issue that needs to be addressed is what if a gene for homosexuality or paedophilia is found, then will we be prejudice and discriminate against people who are found to have these genes even if they show no signs of it on the outside? This will probably be a major press issue in the coming years as we learn more and more about our DNA. The problem is that people may possess these types of genes and yet never show any characteristics of them. Surely we must judge people by their behaviour and not by what could be like.

As we have seen in the news, people will discriminate against paedophiles, for example, and if there was the opportunity of catching them before doing anything, if they would then these DNA results could lead to many problems. This leads me on to my next issue, which is whether or not people will have to have DNA samples taken, and whether or not they will be able to keep there genetic information private. Maybe employees will make DNA tests compulsory before employing a person, to see what kind of person they are by looking at their genes.

A legal issue that is bound to arise is whether or not insurance companies would have the right to insist on DNA tests before accepting to insure someone. If they could then some people could find it impossible to get life insurance because they may have a genetic disease. Although it is not nice to think of, it would be possible for people to hire private geneticists to modify their, children to be, who could possibly put a time limit on a child’s life.

So the people could take out insurance policies with the knowledge that their child will die within a week of birth, unfortunately there may be people with ideas like this, which would could lead to a darker side to gene therapy. There is also a second type of gene therapy – Somatic cell, this concerns changing all cells in an organism in which the defective gene is ‘working’. This type of gene therapy doesn’t raise as many issues as germ cell, although the main issue here is whether companies should own strands of human DNA. This is because it could limit the accessibility of some drugs to some people.

There is also a wider picture to look at, because it is not inconceivable to suggest that the ‘human gene pool’ will get smaller and smaller, this could happen if everyone decided they wanted clever, good looking children… and the same genes were used again and again for different people. This could have disastrous affect in terms of the long-term future of humans. This would have to be classed as a humanitarian issue On the whole as we discover more about our genes, doors will be opened for new treatments, it will become easier to treat genetic diseases.

While a lot of good is bound to come from The Human Genome Project and such projects, lots of issues need to be raised. We cannot ignore that we are slowly uncovering the mystery of life and with this new found knowledge there will be ways to abuse it, and we need to be careful of this. While we say all of this we are still a way off from knowing what everything in our genome does. There are many other issues other than those raised, which also need to be addressed, but hopefully they will be and this knowledge can be put to good use in helping people.

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