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Human Genome project ahead of schedule

by John Buchel, State Editor
April 16, 2003

The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium announced Monday that it had completed the mapping of the human genome two years ahead of schedule and $300 million under its originally projected budget.

The success of what has come to be known as the Human Genome Project is expected to change the way human DNA is examined and interacted with.

The Genome Research Institute plans to publish its plans for the future of its research in the April 24 issue of the scientific journal Nature. On that date, the publication will mark the 50th anniversary of its publication of a paper by James Watson and Francis Crick that described DNA's structure as the double helix. Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their paper on gene structuring.

Waclaw Szybalski, professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin, said that the consortium's success was not a huge discovery on the order of Watson and Crick's.

"Nothing new has really developed. It's not like they made a new discovery," Szybalski said. "This is just the final accumulation of more and more data over about the last three years."

In June 2000, the consortium announced it had finished a rough draft of the sequence and had since then worked to polish its decoding techniques. The current vision of the genome has been sequenced to an accuracy of 99.99 percent and is considered highly reliable.

"I believe it means that the sequence of the human genome has basically been completely mapped out and now it can begin to be taken to the next level of research," Szybalski said.

The next and most immediate task for the international consortium will be dissemination of its findings to the rest of the scientific community.

"From the beginning, one of the operating principles of the Human Genome Project has been that the data and resources it has generated should rapidly be made available to the entire scientific community," said Robert Waterston of the University of Washington-Seattle in a release. "Not only does the rapid release of data promote the best interests of science, it also maximizes the benefits that the public receives from such research."

Szybalski said he was pleased to see the mapping of the genome progress internationally, as he considered himself one of the forerunners in gene therapy, which figures to benefit from having the genome scoped out. He said he recently attended a big bash on Long Island that celebrated the anniversary of the discovery of the double helix.

"It's most important for research on human diseases. It's very important for diagnostics," Szybalski said. "It would be very helpful to be able to see specifically what's wrong with the genes."

Szybalski said the real work on the human genome was only beginning, not ending, and that people shouldn't think that just because the genes are mapped out there is no more work to be done.

"It's one thing to know what's wrong with the gene; it's another thing to actually try and fix the problem without causing a lot of collateral damage," Sybalski said. "Everyone is different. Now that there is a basic outline, work can be started so that mapping an individual's genome could be done for $20 or $100 instead of $3 billion."  end of article dingbat


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