Rough map of human genome completed
Milestone in genetics expected to be giant boon for medicine
Mapping the chemical sequences for human DNA -- the chemical "letters" that make up the recipe of human life -- is a breakthrough that is expected to revolutionize the practice of medicine by paving the way for new drugs and medical therapies.
"Mapping the human genome has been compared with putting a man on the moon but I believe it is more than that," said Dr. Michael Dexter, the director of the Wellcome Trust which funded the British part of the Human Genome Project -- a publicly funded effort.
"This is the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime, perhaps in the history of mankind," Dexter told a London news conference.
A second, joint announcement from the Human Genome Project and U.S.-based Celera Genomics was to be held later in the day at the White House in Washington.
Knowledge can help treat causes of diseases
Specific sequences of DNA characters form the genes that make us what we are, govern our biological functions and determine our susceptibility to illnesses.
Mapping them ushers in a new era of genetic-based medicine, enabling doctors to treat the underlying genetic causes of hundreds of human disorders, including heart disease and cancer.
The Human Genome Project is an international consortium supported mostly by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust, a philanthropic organization based in London. Celera Genomics is a private company in Rockville, Maryland.
Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, said "it's hard to overstate the importance of reading our own instruction book and that's what the human genome project is all about."
Collins told CNN that the mapping of the human genome will open new doors in treating and researching an endless list of diseases that are currently incurable.
Advances could come quickly
"You're going to see a proliferation of discoveries about the genetic contributions to diabetes and heart disease and high blood pressure and schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis and on down the list," he said.
"Conditions that we know have genetic contributions but which have been rather difficult to nail down, this set of power tools that the genome project is producing will accelerate this discovery process rather dramatically, and we're going to see the consequences of that in the next three to five years," Collins said.
J. Craig Venter, who heads Celera, said the next step in the project is the "interpretation phase."
"That is really the fun part of the whole project because then we finally have the complete order of all the layers of genetic code and we have to discover what it all means," he said.
Venter said this is the first time in history that scientists will be able to look at the "biology of the gene, how those genes relate to each other to cause us to be alive." Venter said the advances should come quickly, adding that what once took 10 years can now be done in 15 seconds due to advanced technology and computers.
Although the public and private groups are using different methods in their human genome projects, they both have as a goal the discovery of the chemicals of the approximately 80,000 genes that make up the human body.
Each chemical is assigned a letter (A, C, G, T). Now that the sequencing is complete, scientists will look for the genetic variations in people -- variations that could be the cause of countless diseases.
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