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The Human Genome Project

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Introduction

The Human Genome Project "The Human Genome Project (HGP) was the largest biological investigation ever undertaken"1 which began in 1990 and spanned 13 years. It achieved its goal in 2003 by identifying the sequence of over 3 billion base pairs which constitute the human genome (the complete genetic material of an organism). The project was heralded by the research conducted in 1953 by the scientists Watson and Crick who discovered that DNA existed as a double helical structure (enabling DNA replication), from images of Rosalind Franklin's DNA X-ray diffraction. Despite the potential positive applications of the project's results such as in molecular medicine, it has been scrutinized for being unethical by interfering with nature and for having too many negative social, legal and economic implications. In 1990 the HGP was said to have ambitious aims, but by 2003 not only had they been achieved but surpassed. The most significant aim was to be able to identify variations in the human genome that caused diseases, and to find the phenotypes (physical expressions) ...read more.

Middle

Genome based research will lead to doctors having better diagnostic tools, highly effective medicines and the ability to "understand the health needs of people based on their individual genetic make-ups"4. Doctors will be able to produce individualised analysis on a person's genome meaning effective preventative medicines can be produced. Also, a person's future health problems can be predicted from their genome, meaning necessary precautions can be taken before it is too late such as diet or lifestyle changes. This ability to analyze an individual patient's genome will not only arise from the results of the HGP but also from the techniques it developed. Secondly, the project has given scientists a better molecular understanding of diseases like diabetes, kidney failure and heart disease. Therefore, with this knowledge medical companies can produce effective treatments in a relatively short period of time without the need of such intensive and expensive testing. The beginning of the HGP sparked an intense bioethical debate concerning its social, moral and cultural impacts, and is seen by many as being a threat to the sanctity of human life. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, ethicists think this would spoil the unconditional love a mother is supposed to have for a baby when she chooses to refuse and kill it when there is something she doesn't like about it. This would also undermine the rights of the unborn baby who could cope with the disease and live a life of happiness. Moreover, "in some countries in which the culture values boys more than girls, ultrasound and amniocentesis [an examination of cells surrounding the foetus] are used mainly to check the sex of the foetus"6. This could create abnormal male to female ratios in certain countries leading to a future population crisis. To conclude, it is clear that the HGP required intensive human effort to reach its completion and the techniques required will be able to have future applications in medicine and genetics. While some people would argue that the project carries no moral responsibilities, I believe its potential effects in vaccine making and disease prevention outweigh the possible exploitation of its results. Also with government intervention in the form of laws and sanctions the uses of the HGP could be regulated to ensure that people don't use it for immoral effects. ...read more.

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