The Human Genome Project Camille Mumm
Thomas F. Lee Comp 106
p. 150- 298
“Most humans have at least a measure of control over their daily lives. We are as a rule, free to make choices about our education, employment, marital status, or geographical location. But we are prisoners to our genes.” p282
While the first half of this book dealt almost exclusively with the history of genetics and the origins of the Human Genome Project, this second half deals with the controversies, implementation, ethics, and outcomes of the project. One of the more interesting portions of this is the legal dispute. While the argument over specific dollar amounts and committees isn’t the most entertaining read, the concept is interesting. Because of the magnitude of this project as well as the monetary and ethical controversy the US government had to get involved. So through a series of committees, budgets, and argument over which group should be the official head of the project, a plan emerged.
Another chapter in this book is devoted to the possible outcomes of the HGP and discusses how the work could directly affect diseases like Alzheimer's or Huntington’s disease. The potential that unlocking the human genome holds is huge and could mean finding a treatment to help people with diseases that have been nothing but a death sentence. The reader can tell that author Thomas F. Lee is excited by the ideas that mapping the human genome can trigger. Whether these are things like gene therapy or improved testing, a three million base pair map will help a lot of people.
The controversy of the HGP has been one of the most interesting parts to read about, I can see both sides. The potential that the HGP has is incredible but people worried that having the “map” would make doctors and researchers see a person as no more that a pattern of repeating AGCT. Because this book was written before the project came to a conclusion, these are legitimate concerns; but because we are living in a world where the human genome is mapped and far better understood, we know that researchers have not dehumanized medicine with this new technology.
Another concern expressing in the ethics portion of the book was the concept of “designer babies,” the concept that if scientists know which genes control which traits; parents would be able to not only pick the best set of genes that the combination of their DNA offered, but even go in a change an unborn baby's genetic makeup. Again because of the time frame of this book, people did not know what kind of effects the HGP would yield, and we know that even with the genome mapped, “designer babies” haven’t become a reality. I feel like this concept is not entirely gone yet and people still fear what might happen with advanced genetic technology and I agree.
After watching the movie Gattaca in my anatomy class, I have contemplated the issue of genetic discrimination and other ethical dilemmas. That movie was produced right in the time frame of the HGP and this book. Because I am looking into careers in genetic research, I may have to face some of these controversies in my future, and this book clued me in on more that I even thought existed.This book got quite a bit more interesting in the second half because wasn’t so much of a long history lesson with bunches of names and dates. Despite this, the book still feels like Lee is lecturing all of the information to the reader, which I don’t mind. I’m personally interested in the topic and the years that this book was written in offer a unique perspective. Obviously the HGP hasn’t affected most people’s everyday lives the way people in the early 90’s feared, but even with the human genome mapped, the discoveries are far from over.