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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.

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VideoReporter Jonathan Aiken looks at the possibility that advances in the science of genetics could result in discrimination against individuals by employers and insurers.
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VideoCNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reports that the new genetic information could completely change the way your doctor takes care of you.
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VideoMedical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland reports on the successes, failures and short-term potential of gene therapy
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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.



RELATED STORIES:
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Milestone in human genetics to be announced Monday
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Have your genes sequenced online
May 24, 2000
Who owns your genes?
March 21, 2000
Implications of the Human Genome Project
March 17, 2000
U.S., Britain urge free access to human genome data
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President acts to bar genetic discrimination
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Clinton targets $1 billion extra for biomedical research
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RELATED SITES:
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
  • The Human Genome Project
  • The Human Genome Project: From Maps to Medicine
Human Genome Sequencing
The Human Genome Organisation (HUGO)
CDC - Office of Genetics
Department of Energy-Life Sciences Division
Celera Genome Research
  •  Genomics Education
Cooperative Human Linkage Center
The Institute for Genomic Research
Los Alamos National Laboratory: Center for Human Genome Studies
Stanford Human Genome Center
Advanced Center for Genome Technology, University of Oklahoma
University of Utah: Human Genetics Department
University of Washington Genome Center
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, MIT
Genethon Genome Research (France)
Genome Sequence Centre (Canada)
Sanger Centre (U.K.)
Centre for Human Genome Research (Denmark)


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