The Human Genome Project
Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed
Professor of Medicine
University of Louisville School of Medicine
Louisville, KY 40292
President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462
"We shall show them Our
portents on the horizons
And within themselves
until it will be
Manifest unto them that it
is the Truth.
Does not your Lord
Since He is Witness over
Fusilat, 41: 53
"We have caught a glimpse
an instruction book (of
previously known to God."
--Dr. Frances Collins,
Director of the National
Genome Research Institute,
National Institutes of
In June 2000, the
US-based National Institute of Health (NIH) and Celera Genomics Corp., a biotech
company, announced that they had deciphered about 90 percent of the human
This decade old
Human Genome (book of life) Project is trying to decode our genes and in this
process it is churning out 12,000 letters of genetic code every minute of every
day, creating a list that will total more than three billion when finally
completed. Amazingly, more than 1,100 biologists, computer scientists and
analysts at university laboratories in six different countries have been hard at
work trying to complete what some are calling biology's version of the book of
life. This project is like putting a man on the moon.
What is the
genome, and what does it mean to the human beings?
taught in elementary schools that everything is made up of atoms. Atoms combine
to make molecules. For example two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen
combine to form one molecule of water. How do atoms and molecules work together
to create the unique human being. All biological life is made up of an
astonishingly complex blend of molecules. They combine, break down and recombine
into the same or a myriad of other forms of molecules. Every day trillions of
actions and reactions of molecules occur every second in processes that provide
energy, food and cell maintenance for our bodies. What type of instructions and
communications tell these atoms and molecules what to do? The Human Genome
Project aims to solve that mystery in a breathtaking detail that even the
scientific world is awestruck.
structures in the nucleus of a cell (the primary unit of the body) called
chromosomes are at the fundamental level of the beginning of life. The
chromosomes contain the genetic document- a chemical instruction set written in
chemical code-that tell the human body how to arrange, structure, absorb and
expel atoms and molecules. The totality of the genetic instructions is the
human genome. Each individual has a unique genome, a specific
chemical genetic instruction set. In reality, each human being is a genome.
receives one's genome at conception. A male sperm with its 23 chromosomes
paired with a woman's 23 chromosomes in a fertilized egg, creates a totally new
human being. Every individual starts life as a single cell. From that one cell a
human being is made. Every growth pattern, stage and process of a human body
occurs like clockwork-from fetal development to birth, infancy, childhood,
adolescence and adulthood. For the first 18 years in life, on average one adds
100 million cells to the body every minute.
growth is so perfectly programmed from your own set of instructions contained in
that first cell that by age 20, one becomes an adult of more than 100 trillion
(100,000,000,000,000) cells-differentiated into heart, liver, spleen, bone,
skin, muscle, stomach, intestines, eyes and most important of all the brain.
Scientists have estimated that 40 percent of the genome is devoted to the
development of the brain alone.
Design of Genetic
look into the design of the human cell they are wonderstruck to find it to be
brilliant and its performance stunning. After 50 years the most marvelous
biological mystery has been solved and that is how genes drive all the
development of the body's cells at the molecular level. To reach this
understanding they learned how the functions of the tiniest cellular structure
for feeding, repairing, eliminating waste, dividing and even dying. With
advances in technology, the glory of the structure of chromosomes was revealed.
The key to
understanding of the genes is the DNA, acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is
found in each cell's nucleus (hence it a nucleic acid), the command center of
the cell. DNA is also an instructional blueprint for every one of the 100
trillion cells that make up all body tissue. DNA directs each component of the
cell in trillions of cellular processes that take place in the human body every
second until death.
resembles ladderlike formation of two strands with rungs creating a double-helix
shape. The ladder forms continuos; giant molecule called the chromosome. Water
has two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen and written as H2O, with a
molecular weight of 18. The DNA chromosome molecule has a molecular weight of
about 80 billion. DNA chromosome is a thin thread coiled in the cell's tiny
nucleus and has a diameter of 2 nanometers. When stretched to full length it
would be about one and a quarter inch long. The two DNA's strands appear like
stilts made of an alternating phosphate and sugar. The steplike rungs between
the strands are made up of paired bases of nitrogen compounds identified by the
letters G, C, A and T (the first letters of the four kinds of bases: guanine,
cytosine, adenine and thymine). These are the only substances in DNA; hence the
genome consists of only these four-but in seemingly endless sequences. These
compounds direct every cell in the human body what to do. Special bands of these
compounds are our genes.
Genes are paired
on each chromosome with sequences that account for specific traits and physical
and physical characteristics. Each body trait requires one or more pairs of
genes. For example the color of eyes, shape of body parts and susceptibility to
diseases all are found within the gene pairs of the genome. There are between
80,000 to 100,000 genes in the human genome. Scientists do not know where all
the genes are, or even how many genes there are. The goal of the Human Genome
Project is to decode everyone.
The universe is
estimated to contain 100 billion galaxies with an estimated 200 billion stars
each, and now scientists are realizing that each human body appears as complex
and amazingly designed as the universe itself. For example the human brain has
100 billion neurons, with untold trillions of connections and patterns of
endless wiring sequences. We are unaware of what goes on in our cells as our
genome tells our cells to assemble amino acids into proteins to make cell walls,
and cell walls to split and divide and human beings are unaware of the constant
stream of virtual miracles that keep human beings alive, alert and functioning.
Solving the puzzle
How did such an
astonishingly complex process begin? How did the billions of atoms in each DNA
molecule arrange themselves perfectly for the self-perpetuation or what we call
life? How did cells, DNA and chromosomes come about? Some argue that the
greatest scientific proof that human beings were designed by a higher Power is
this: The process of one genome creating a living, self-perpetuating organism
cannot happen over time. It has to be right the first time, and it must entail
literally billions of designed elements that must be in place and functioning
perfectly, or else the cell cannot exist and reproduce. The self-replicating
cell exists only because its inherent intelligent systems- each involving
billions of functions- interact perfectly. Otherwise it is dead. The chromosomes
and cells are extremely complex and beyond imagination that some scholars argue
that they could never have evolved through random processes from nothing, even
if given the endless time spans evolutionists require for their theory.
Evolutionists are unable to explain, for example, how and why heart tissue,
liver tissue, skin and blood are distinctly different and have dramatically
different functions. However, surprisingly, each cell contains the same DNA.
Therefore a liver cell's DNA is identical to a brain cell's DNA. Still the
mystery is how each cell knows its identity, function and position in the body.
Benefits of the
Human Genome Project
the human genome scientists hope, among other things, to discover the causes for
many diseases, develop new treatments and cures and slow or reverse the aging
process. Already researchers on the Human Genome Project have identified genetic
disorders responsible for cystic fibrosis and some types of cervical, stomach
and testicular cancer, among other diseases.
number of little changes that make one person different from another--known as
single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs -- have been identified. Until September
2000 more than 800,000 SNPs have been identified. Of the 800,000 now found,
300,000 were identified by the private-public SNP Consortium, which has
accelerated its program The Consortium's members include Britain's Wellcome
Trust, AstraZeneca PLC, Aventis Pharma, Bayer AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.,
Hoffman-La Roche, Glaxo Wellcome Plc, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer Inc.,
Searle (now part of Pharmacia), and SmithKline Beecham Plac and Motorola Inc.,
IBM, and Amersham Pharmacia Biotech. Other members include the Whitehead
Institute for Biomedical Research at the Washington University School of
Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri; the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Center, Stanford
University's Human Genome Center, and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New
York, New York.
The Human Genome
Project also has its own moral and ethical issues. Parents will be motivated to
abort unborn fetuses with abnormal genetic profiles. There will be an increasing
trend toward creating "designer babies" by customizing personal genetic traits
such as looks, abilities, height, intelligence and hair and eye color. Genetic
discrimination is a real possibility. Companies screen potential employees and
deny jobs or insurance to those with genetic predisposition to some diseases.
Finally, children could be sorted into social classes or career tracks based on