Impact of the Human Genome Project
The atlas of the human genome will revolutionize medical practice and biological research into the 21st century and beyond. All human genes will eventually be found, and accurate diagnostics will be developed for most inherited diseases. In addition, animal models for human disease research will be more easily developed, facilitating the understanding of gene function in health and disease.
Researchers have already identified single genes associated with a number of diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, myotonic dystrophy, neurofibromatosis, and retinoblastoma. As research progresses, investigators will also uncover the mechanisms for diseases caused by several genes or by a gene interacting with environmental factors. Genetic susceptibilities have been implicated in many major disabling and fatal diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several kinds of cancer. The identification of these genes and their proteins will pave the way to more- effective therapies and preventive measures. Investigators determining the underlying biology of genome organization and gene regulation will also begin to understand how humans develop from single cells to adults, why this process sometimes goes awry, and what changes take place as people age.
New technologies developed for genome research will also find myriad applications in industry, as well as in projects to map (and ultimately improve) the genomes of economically important farm animals and crops.
While human genome research itself does not pose any new ethical dilemmas, the use of data arising from these studies presents challenges that need to be addressed before the data accumulate significantly. To assist in policy development, the ethics component of the Human Genome Project is funding conferences and research projects to identify and consider relevant issues, as well as activities to promote public awareness of these topics.