Initiated about a decade ago, the Human Genome Project is an unprecedented endeavor to map and sequence all human DNA. The Human Genome Project has been international in nature from the beginning, perhaps in part because of the long tradition of international collaboration in the field of human genetics.
International Cooperation and The Human Genome Project
Initiated about a decade ago, the Human Genome Project is an unprecedented endeavor to map and sequence all human DNA. The Project seeks, in effect, to "read" the instruction book for human biology. Though it will take many decades to fully comprehend how this instruction book specifies the biological properties of a human being, this quest into understanding ourselves is considered by many to be the most significant organized scientific effort ever undertaken by humankind. The consequences of this effort will transform human health by identifying the hereditary contributions to virtually every disease. It will open the door to individualized preventive medicine as well as gene-based therapies that are likely to be drastically more successful than current therapies for many medical conditions.
The motivation to carry out the Human Genome Project is primarily a medical one, but the consequences will be far-reaching for the understanding of basic microbial, plant, and animal biology, the molecular basis of development, and evolution. From the outset of the project, it was also recognized, especially in the United States, that the ethical, legal, and social implications of this accelerated timetable for genetic discoveries were likely to present many new challenges, and were at least as deserving of international attention as the scientific issues involved.
The Human Genome Project has been international in nature from the beginning, perhaps in part because of the long tradition of international collaboration in the field of human genetics. Indeed, at the inception of the Project, a number of prominent geneticists from around the world founded the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) to assist in the coordination of the international enterprise. HUGO, along with other scientific societies, has served as a useful forum for international scientific communication and collaboration, and has provided much needed opportunities for the discussion of shared ethical concerns.
The first five years of the Human Genome Project, from 1990 to 1995, were primarily focused on building genetic and physical maps of the human genome, working on simpler model organisms, and developing the technology necessary to tackle the sequencing of a very large genome. As US, European, and Japanese academic centers and laboratories struggled to fully develop the production mindset necessary for the scale of this project, colleagues in France at Genethon, supported by private investment from the French Telethon, established a factory-like institute that developed the first and still widely used microsatellite genetic maps of human DNA. This French leadership in paving the way toward a new model for high throughput biology was quickly mimicked by other major centers, as large-scale mapping and sequencing accelerated. In 1996 a large consortium of groups, primarily located in Europe, succeeded in obtaining the complete sequence of baker's yeast. A particularly productive collaboration between the Sanger Centre in the United Kingdom and the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis was organized around the goal of determining the complete sequence of the roundworm C. elegans, and attained that important milestone in December 1998.
With the achievement of these goals, attention turned toward building the capacity to complete the sequence of the human genome. The deadline, originally planned for 2005, has now been moved forward to 2003, and a working draft containing 90 percent of the sequence is expected to be available by spring 2000, much sooner than had been predicted. …