The Human Genome Project was an international scientific research project that determined the DNA sequence of the approximately 20,000 – 25,000 genes that make up the human genome. The project was completed in 2000 and provided an unparalleled and never-before glimpse into how the human body works, how it reacts to its environment and how disease develops.
The information and understanding that was gleaned from the sequencing of the human genome has resulted in massive advances in the development of new drugs and medicines to treat diseases, as well as spurred genomics research into other areas like the environment and agriculture.
Without this knowledge, many of the advances and successes of the past ten years and the improvements in treatment of disease and environmental sustainability would not have been possible.
However, genomics is still in its infancy and much more is to be learnt about genes and their role. Much has been achieved to date, but the real potential and pay-off for the past ten years of research is still to come. Typically, it is not likely that research funded today will result in any solid, tangible outcomes until around 20 years later. However, there are already some successes, a few of which are outlined below:
Some successes to date:
- The development of a number of DNA screening tests that provide early identification of risk factors of developing diseases such as colon cancer and breast cancer
- The development of new technologies capable of quickly identifying diseases and infections
- The identification of the role played by many key genes involved in cancers and type 2 diabetes, as well as the detection of gene mutations associated with cystic fibrosis
- The ability to convert plant wastes into fuels and bioproducts that are better for the environment than fossil fuels
- The development of genetically modified crops that can resist pests and diseases
- The identification of many of the genes associated with Autism – helping medical professionals understand the disorder better and provide more effective treatment and management of it
- In environmental research, genomics has helped scientists create new, mobile devices to identify animal and plant species, and learn about complex ecosystems and create solutions to preserve biodiversity