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Nature vs. Nurture - The Human Genome Project

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Elizabeth Chun June 16, 2004 Environment & Society Prof. Dele Ogunseitan Nature vs. Nurture - The Human Genome Project The Human Genome Project has involved thousands of scientists in a large collective effort to determine this sequence, over the span of approximately thirteen years and the estimated cost of three billion dollars. Ultimately, the HGP "seeks to determine the relative position of each of the estimated fifty to one hundred thousand human genes and to determine the sequence of the approximately three billion [chemical base pairs] constituting the entire human genetic material" (Ogunseitan 1246). In addition, the project involves storing this information in databases and attempts to improve tools for data analysis, while transferring related technologies to the private sector. However, a significant part of the project involves addressing the ethical, legal, and social issues that arise from the project as a whole. Controversy has existed from the very beginning of the project, despite the initial goal of simply deriving meaningful knowledge from the DNA sequence to further current understanding of the biological system. ...read more.


In microbial genomics, data from the genome project allows further insights into the development of energy-related biotechnologies such as photosynthetic and microbial systems that function in extreme environments. The project also contributes indirectly to the development of new and diverse products, processes, and test methods that will open the door to a cleaner environment. Understanding the human genome will have a significant effect on assessing risks posed to individuals by exposure to toxic agents. Moreover, this understanding can be applied to plants and animals to create stronger and disease-resistant organisms. In essence, information on the DNA of non-human organisms can lead to an understanding of their natural capabilities, which can be applied toward solving challenges in health care, energy sources, agriculture, and environmental cleanup. In the past, researchers were only able to study few genes at a time. However, with the advancement in the HGP, they can approach their methods systematically on a grand scale. ...read more.


The mapping of the human genes has to be anonymous, but the information acquired will apply to every human being regardless of individual differences, color, or race. The information should be general property and should not be used for business aims. As a result, no patents should be give for the human genome or parts of it. The risks of social and genetic discrimination also bears ground for opposition to the HGP due to the fact that such risks outweigh the potential benefits derived from the results of the project. Genetic mapping may become a source of stigmatization and social discrimination as the "risky population" may turn into a "defective population." Furthermore, the danger of re-incorporating eugenics into the research gleaned from the project increases the opposition toward sequencing human DNA. The fear that government eugenics might take place to improve the race exists among a significant part of those against the project. This draws in the concept of "playing God" in altering genes to create the ideal or improved sequence of genes. The ethical issues raised by the HGP are primarily linked with the abuse of research information. ...read more.

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