Human Genome Project

You’ve probably heard about the Human Genome Project (HGP) at one point or another — maybe you remember what a big deal it was for the scientific community when the project was completed. But do you know why it’s so important? Let’s get you caught up.

At Orig3n, we owe a lot to the scientists who came before us. It’s because of the HGP that we’re able to do what we do here at Orig3n – both our DNA tests and our work in regenerative medicine are grounded in the HGP.

The HGP began in 1990 as an international research effort to map the entire human genome and all of its genes. The project was coordinated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Internationally, the project included partners from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Japan, as well as many universities and laboratories throughout the United States.

The goals of the project were twofold: (1) to accurately sequence all the DNA base pairs that make up the human genome, and (2) to identify all of the estimated 20,000 human genes. In other words, the project’s purpose was to determine the complete genetic blueprint for a human being.

An ambitious undertaking, this revolutionary project was successfully completed in 2003. Let’s take a closer look at the timeline:

The Human Genome Project Timeline

  • 1953: Watson and Crick model the structure of DNA as a double helix. Read more about the discovery of DNA.
  • 1977: Frederick Sanger develops the “Sanger Method” (also known as rapid DNA sequencing), to quickly and accurately determine the sequence of bases within a single DNA strand.
  • 1984: The National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy, and various international groups meet to discuss the prospect of studying the human genome.
  • 1989: The National Center for Human Genome Research, which later became the National Human Genome Research Institute, is founded to facilitate NIH’s role in the HGP.
  • 1990: The HGP begins. NIH and DOE publish a plan for the first 5 years of an expected 15-year project.
  • 1996: The “Bermuda Principles” are drafted. Leaders of the HGP meet at a summit in Bermuda and agree that all of their human genome sequencing data should be freely available in the public domain within 24 hours of its generation — to encourage research and development and maximize the project’s benefits to society.
  • 2001: A first draft of the genome is released by the HGP. The number of human genes are estimated to be around 20,000. Scientists also report that the DNA sequences of any two humans are 99.9% identical.
  • 2003: The HGP is completed in 13 years, two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule (and under budget!). Sequencing 3.2 billion bases of DNA, the sequences mapped cover 99% of the human genome. The HGP team also creates search and analysis tools, to help researchers around the world take full advantage of the project.

Genome sequencing changes the game

The sequencing of the human genome was a monumental milestone in the both the scientific and medical worlds.

Take medicine, for instance. Although prior to the HGP, certain genetic diseases had already been sequenced — Huntington’s disease, for example — mapping the entire human genome allowed for greater advances, faster. With the HGP identifying the location and structure of most human genes, today’s scientists can now more easily identity the genes associated with diseases. With this new genetic insight, researchers are better able to understand these conditions as a whole, accelerating the discovery of cures, treatments, and preventive medicines. The HGP team also successfully mapped other organisms, including mouse and rat genomes, which are also useful in medical research.

The HGP also broke new ground exploring the legal, social, and ethical implications of genomics — in particular setting the standard for genomics research. Instead of the traditional practice of making research available only after the data has been published, HGP leaders decided that scientists around the world should have free, direct access to their data as it became available. These “Bermuda Principles” became the norm for genomics, encouraging innovation, research, and collaboration – and influencing other fields in turn.

The incredible human genome

The human genome is obviously pretty complex — it took 13 years to map it, after all — so there’s a lot to learn about it. Did you know:

  • There are 3.2 billion letters in the human genome.
  • The human genome would take 100 years to recite, if we stated one letter per second, 24 hours a day.
  • Each human cell has around 6 feet of DNA coiled up inside.
  • Considering that each person has around 10 trillion cells, your DNA could stretch to the sun and back 61 times.
  • The HGP is considered to be the biological equivalent of the Wright Brothers’ first flight or the Apollo Project bringing man to the moon.

Cementing the United States as a leader in biotechnology, the HGP is key to the work we do here at Orig3n. Today, we’re helping people explore their own DNA, so they can live fuller, healthier lives. We’ve also created the world’s largest crowdsourced cell repository, and we’re using it to research regenerative medicine, with the hope of developing new treatments and therapies to treat rare, genetically inherited diseases. We believe knowledge is power — and just like the HGP scientists, we’re working hard to unlock new knowledge, so we can all live better lives.