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What is the Human Genome Project?
Begun formally in 1990, the U.S. Human Genome Project was a 13-year effort
coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes
of Health. The project originally was planned to last 15 years, but rapid
technological advances accelerated the completion date to 2003. Project goals
To help achieve these goals, researchers also studied the genetic makeup
of several nonhuman organisms. These include the common human gut bacterium
Escherichia coli, the fruit fly, and the laboratory mouse.
- identify all the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA,
- determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs
that make up human DNA,
- store this information in databases,
- improve tools for data analysis,
- transfer related technologies to the private sector, and
- address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may
arise from the project.
A unique aspect of the U.S. Human Genome Project is that it was the first
large scientific undertaking to address potential ELSI implications arising
from project data.
Another important feature of the project was the federal government's
long-standing dedication to the transfer of technology to the private
sector. By licensing technologies to private companies and awarding grants
for innovative research, the project catalyzed the multibillion-dollar
U.S. biotechnology industry and fostered the development of new medical
Landmark papers detailing sequence and analysis of the human genome were
published in February 2001 and April 2003 issues of Nature and
Science. See an index
of these papers and learn more about the
insights gained from them.
For more background information on the U.S. Human Genome Project, see the
What's a genome? And why is it important?
- A genome is all the DNA in an organism, including its genes. Genes carry
information for making all the proteins required by all organisms. These proteins determine,
among other things, how the organism looks, how well its body metabolizes food or fights
infection, and sometimes even how it behaves.
- DNA is made up of four similar chemicals (called bases and abbreviated A, T, C, and G) that
are repeated millions or billions of times throughout a genome. The human genome, for example,
has 3 billion pairs of bases.
- The particular order of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs is extremely important. The order underlies all of
life's diversity, even dictating whether an organism is human or another species such as yeast, rice,
or fruit fly, all of which have their own genomes and are themselves the focus of genome projects.
Because all organisms are related through similarities in DNA sequences, insights gained from
nonhuman genomes often lead to new knowledge about human biology.
To understand more read
What are some practical benefits to learning about
Knowledge about the effects of DNA variations among individuals can lead
to revolutionary new ways to diagnose, treat, and someday prevent the
thousands of disorders that affect us. Besides providing clues to understanding
human biology, learning about nonhuman organisms' DNA sequences can lead
to an understanding of their natural capabilities that can be applied
toward solving challenges in health care, agriculture, energy production,
environmental remediation, and carbon sequestration.
For more details, see Anticipated
Benefits of Human Genome Research.
What are some of the ethical, legal, and social challenges
presented by genetic information, and what is being done to address these
The Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health Genome
Programs set aside 3% to 5% of their respective annual HGP budgets for
the study of the project's ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI). Nearly
$1 million was spent on HGP ELSI research.
For an in-depth look at the ELSI surrounding the project, see our suite
of ELSI pages.
Where can I learn more about the U.S. Human Genome
Explore the links in the left-hand column including
This web site maintained by the Human Genome Management
Information System (HGMIS) at Oak Ridge
National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy Human