(Created by Alan Johnston, History 135, April 2001)
DNA Molecule-www.ornl.gov

Assignment Background Timeline WWW Sites Books Publications Related Events


 How have developments in genetics, especially the Human Genome Project, affected society in the last fifty years?


DNA is an organic chemical found in cells that codes genetic information for the transmission of inherited traits. The structure of DNA was discovered in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick.

Developments in genetic research have forever altered history. Technologies and resources  promoted by the Human Genome Project have had profound impacts on biomedical research and promise to revolutionize biological research and clinical medicine. Researchers have determined that conditions such as fragile X syndrome, neurofibromatosis, Alzheimer's, inherited colon cancer, and familial breast  cancer, all were genetically encoded at life's conception. These diseases and conditions can be eradicated before they are able to take their toll, by replacing the defective genes

In 1994, an effort started to map the genomes of bacteria useful in energy production, environmental remediation, toxic waste reduction, and industrial processing. Information gleaned from the mapping of the bacterium gene has started to lead to the creation of organisms that could: metabolize toxic waste, bleach paper pulp, or remove lipstick from glassware. The sequencing done on microbes has also started to reveal the vulnerabilities of unwanted bacteria such as E. coli.

Risk assessment is another area in which genetic sequencing has had a great impact. Scientists know that genetic differences make some people more susceptible and others more resistant to toxic agents. Further exploration will lead to understanding the effects of low-level radiation, especially in terms of its cancer risk.

One area of genetics that has already received a great deal of media attention is DNA forensics. DNA identification has helped in identifying potential crime suspects, exonerate persons wrongly accused of crimes, identify crash victims, establish paternity, detect harmful organisms which may pollute the water or air, match organ donors with recipients, and authenticate consumables like wine.

Lastly, genetic research has lead to the development of disease resistant crops, healthier farm animals, biopesticides, and edible vaccines.

All of these developments have lead to a better quality of life for people on earth, and continued research only promises to make better and better breakthroughs are time goes on.


Special issues of Science (Feb. 16, 2001) and Nature (Feb. 15, 2001) contain the working draft of the human genome sequence. Nature papers include initial analysis of the descriptions of the sequence generated by the publicly sponsored Human Genome Project, while Science publications focus on the draft sequence reported by the private company, Celera Genomics. A press conference was held at 10 a.m., Monday, February 12, 2001, to discuss the landmark publications. Links for more information are:  Science; Nature Human Genome Project and the Private Sector: A Working Partnership; Press releases on First Analysis of Genome Sequence

WWW Sites

Human Genome Project Information - news, FAQs, topical fact sheets, progress reports, and more, for students and scientists. 
Advanced Lifescience Information System - Japan Science and Technology Corporation - human genome sequencing project data available online.
Cancer Genome Anatomy Project (CGAP) - interdisciplinary program to establish the information and technological tools needed to decipher the molecular anatomy of a cancer cell.
Genome Sciences Department - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - identifies genes and determines their functions in the context of biology and human disease through computation, expression array, mapping, bio-imaging, and bio-instrumentation.
Généthon - human genome research centre.
Human Chromosome 22 - information about the second smallest human autosome and how its sequence was determined.
Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) - international organisation of scientists involved in the Human Genome Project.
Human Genome Program - U.S. Department of Energy - includes research projects at universities, DOE genome centers, DOE-owned national laboratories, and other research organizations.
Human Genome Resources - includes genome maps, sequencing progress, and data on genetic variation and gene expression.
Human Genome Sequencing Center - Baylor College of Medicine
In silico Biology: Sequence & Structure & Function - bioinformatics conference to address fundamental questions raised by the progress of the Human Genome Project. November 11-14, 1999; Atlanta, Georgia.
Model Ethical Protocol for Collecting DNA Samples - a guide to the ethical issues that will be encountered in collecting samples from human populations for the Human Genome Diversity Project.
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) - National Institutes of Health - funds research in chromosome mapping, DNA sequencing, database development, technology development for genome research, and studies of the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetics research.
New Scientist: Human Genome Special - a series of articles examines the project and explores the new world that the human genome will bring.
Stanford Human Genome Center - primary research goals of the center are the construction of high resolution radiation hybrid maps of the human genome and the sequencing of large, contiguous genomic regions.
FAQ - Human Genome Diversity Project - the HGD Project is an international project that seeks to understand the diversity and unity of the entire human species.
Human Genome Project official information page
The Sanger Institute public information pages have general and detailed primers on DNA, genes and genomes, the Human Genome Project and science spotlights.
Cracking the Code of Life is the companion website to the NOVA program documenting the race to decode the genome.
The Genographic Project by National Geographic
The Human Genome Project: A Scientific and Ethical Overview by Marion L. Carroll and Jay Ciaffa
Genetics: The Human Genome Project (New York Times topic index)
Human Genome at Ten: 5 Breakthroughs, 5 Predictions

Recommended Books

A simple guide to genetics is the book by Larry Gonick, Mark Wheelis, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics (1991). For a reference guide approach, try Tom Strachan, Andrew Read, Human Molecular Genetics (1999). Another no-nonsense approach can be found in Matt Ridley, Genome (2000).

Recommended Publications

  • To Know Ourselves (1996), an overview of the underlying science of the Human Genome Project; also available in Adobe Acrobat format.
  • Your Genes, Your Choices (*.pdf, 1999), a booklet describing the Human Genome Project, the science behind it, and the ethical, legal, and social issues that are raised by the project. Also mirrored on this site.
  • Human Genome Landmarks: Selected Traits and Disorders Mapped to Chromosomes (2001) Educational Wall poster of all 24 human chromosomes and different genes that have been mapped to them. Print and online versions available from Web site.
  • The New Genetics™: Medicine and the Human Genome (2001) is a multimedia CD-ROM for those interested in the impact of genetics and genomics on healthcare and society. It is appropriate for non-physician health professionals, medical students, human genetics students, biotechnology trainees, policymakers, and interested members of the public with a foundation in biology.
  • 2000 DOE Human Genome Program Contractor-Grantee Workshop VIII research abstracts from the latest Contractor Grantee Meeting. See archives listing at the bottom of this page for previous workshop reports.
  • Retrospective of the DOE Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues Program (1990-2000): a history of the program, including specific ELSI grants and their products.
  • A Vital Legacy (1997)-- a 50-year progress report on the revolutionary program that gave rise to the Human Genome Project. Available in PDF only.

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This page is copyright © 2001, C.T. Evans and A. Johnston.
For information contact cevans@nvcc.edu