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The promise and perils of the human genome
ATLANTA (CNN) -- From medical miracles to Orwellian observation, the human genome project raises a host of ethical, medical and legal issues.
Researchers in Britain and the United States announced Monday that they have completed a rough map of the genetic makeup of human beings, and are only a few years away from having a complete genetic map.
Using supercomputers, researchers identified the billions of chemical pairings that make up human DNA -- pairs of adenine (A) and thymine (T) and guanine (G) and cytosine (C). Then they put those pairs in the correct order. The order determines the function of each gene, which is composed of DNA.
To completely map the genome, scientists have to determine what function each string of DNA on each gene serves.
That knowledge is expected to lead to better treatments for many human diseases like cancer and diabetes. But for many people, it also raises the specter of genetic discrimination.
"Most people would like to preserve a zone of privacy, would like to know that the genome they inherited won't be used against them in terms of whether they're hired or not, in terms of access to health care," said Dr. Leroy Walters of Georgetown University. "So I think that all societies need to build in protections for people so that a person's genetic information is not unfairly used against the individual."
There is also concern that the medical advances derived from gene technology be available to all people, not just a privileged few. The researchers and governments involved in the genome project said they are committed to providing equal access.
The questions raised by the genome project aren't likely to be answered quickly or easily.
Genome announcement a milestone, but only a beginning
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
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