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The Human Genome Project

Benefits and Ethical Issues

DNA Structure, Mapping and Sequencing
Benefits and Ethical Issues


The completion of the Human Genome Project provides the international community with a detailed map of chromosomes and the genetic code. This has many current and projected benefits which can be designated into six categories:
Molecular Medicine: Benefits in this area include improvements in disease diagnosis and therapeutic and preventative medicine. It is also anticipated that scientists may be able to design custom drugs (pharmacogenetics) tailored to a person's medical needs.
Energy Sources and Environmental Applications: Advancements here would mean using mocrobial genomics to monitor the environment for pollutants and to develop new energy sources.
Risk Assesement: Improvements in risk assesement would result in a more efficient way of evaluating the hazards posed to people who come in contact with carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and radiation.
Bioarcheology, Anthropology, Evolution and Human Migration: Scientists would use the knowledge gained about genes and would examine gene mutations to trace lineages and the path of human migration.
DNA Forensics: Benefits in forensics include the ability to match suspects to crimes using genetic profiles, identify bodies and match organs with organ recipients.
Livestock Breeding and Bioprocessing: A positive implication for bioprocessing is the production of more nutritious disease, drought and insect resistant crops. Livestock breeding can advance as well, with healthier and more disease resistant animals.
Shortly prior to the completion of the HGP, the National Institutes of Health initiated another project called the Hap Map, a three year effort designed to map genetic variation of the human genome. The Hap Map is a map of SNP patterns (single nucleotide polymorphisms) charted through populations in Africa, Asia and the United States. Scientists hope that the map will provide clues about how environmental factors influence genetic variation. The Hap Map may also prove to be a useful tool to quickly identify sections of DNA associated with complex conditions.
Now that the goals of the Human Genome Project have all been successfully met, scientists are concentrating on proteins and their functions. If scientists can discern a protein's function, they can improve treatments associated with a dysfunction in the production of that protein.



On account of the new technology and knowledge that arose during the course of the 13 year project, a portion of the time and funds was dedicated to the ethical, legal and social issues. Some of these are:
  • Use of Genetic information: Who should be able to access someone genetic information? For example, should insurance companies be able to use this information regarding the health of their clients and potential hereditary diseases?


  • Clinical Issues: For instance, if genetic information about an unborn child's physical traits, susceptibility to diseases, etc. becomes available, will parents use this knowledge to select children with more desirable traits? Should this information be available to parents? If so, how does society educate parents so they can make informed decisions?


  • Health and Environmental Concerns: These include worries about the value of genetically modified foods, are they safe for people and the environment?

In Depth

Use of Genetic Information
Issues dealing with the use of genetic information are very controversial. How does a government balance the rights of individuals and the rights of society? Should a person's right to privacy outweigh the benefits society may gain from the knowledge of that person's genetic profile? Society seems to have a need to help others when the potential to do so is there. Should someone's rights to privacy and confidentiality be infringed upon if the knowledge will help someone else? Does society have the right to demand of this?  Although the HGP didn't asnwer these and other questions, it certainly provided different and more in-depth insights into them. This was the point of creating a focus on the ELSI, to generate a greater understanding and to help society's morality and outlook catch up with technology.

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