The Human Genome Project is a coordinated science project which started in 1990 with the purpose of mapping the human genetic blueprint.
Humans are made up of trillions of cells each of which contains genetic material called DNA. Within these long filaments reside the genes that we inherit from our parents. Scientists have found that some (if not all) diseases are linked to abnormalities in the genes. Locating and mapping the human genetic blueprint can help scientists understand these genetic abnormalities and the interplay of several genes which cause disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Duchene muscular dystrophy.
Mapping the human genes has proved to be no easy task. The human genome is considered to be the “master library” which contains all of the genetic information which resides in twenty four different chromosomes. Each cell in the human body contains DNA filaments that can be up to six feet long within its nucleus. In each of these filaments there are six billion base pairs.
Recently, investigators found that the gene responsible for Huntington’s disease was located on chromosome four, but even after a decade of study they still don’t know which gene in particular. This shows how arduous it can be to pinpoint specific genes. One way to map these genes is to compare the chromosomes of many people with the same disease or characteristic. By finding similarities in genes we can determine what exact gene or genes are responsible for the disease.
A method of analyzing chromosomes is flow cytometry. In flow cytometry, individual chromosomes are held in aqueous suspensions and passed in single file through one or more laser beams for analysis. This allows analyzing thousands of chromosomes per second.
The main goals of the Human Genome Project are to develop resources useful for genome research, develop DNA mapping strategies, make ordered clone maps and DNA sequences of human chromosomes, and use the sequences to study genome organization and variation. The main goal, however, is not just to determine the exact sequence of the DNA, but to find the significance of specific genes and how they interact with each other.
Although there is proof that intelligence is at least partly genetic, scientists still haven’t found the specific gene or genes that are responsible for a person’s intelligence. It is likely, since there seem to be different “types” of intelligences, that intellectual abilities do not rely solely on one gene but on the interaction of many genes. In order to identify these genes, scientists would have to collect a large group of people who score above-average on intelligence tests, sequence their chromosomes, and analyze them to look for similarities among the group. This is easier said than done, scientist would have to analyze the entire genome of a person and what makes it all the more difficult is that intelligence is made up of different factors and there is no clear, exact definition of what intelligence is.
What would be the benefits of finding the genes responsible for intelligence?
What ethical problems could arise from finding these genes?
"The Human Genome Project." Energy & Technology Review. April/May 1992: 29+. SIRS Government Reporter. Web. 15 Apr 2012.