The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project with the goal of mapping all of the genes in the human genome from a physical and functional standpoint. Completed in 2000 with results published in 2001, the HGP has provided fascinating insight into the role DNA plays in our ancestry and our health.
The human genome reference sequence is available to researchers and scientists all over the world. It can be used to study human disease and cures for those diseases. Doctors are already using DNA tests to diagnose and confirm conditions like Parkinson’s Disease and Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in their patients.
Beyond diagnostic uses, doctors are looking to gene therapy as treatment for certain conditions as well. The Wall Street Journal has reported that patients in China with cancers of the kidney, lung, liver and throat had cells removed from their bodies that were then genetically altered using a gene editing tool called CRISPR, and then infused back into their bodies to fight the cancer. The first clinical trials for gene altering to treat diseases is set to begin in the United States in 2020.
One of the more applicable breakthroughs for everyone that isn’t a geneticist is the ability for individuals to unlock the mysteries of their own genetic code through tests provided by companies like 23andMe.com and Ancestry.com. For less than $200, you simply provide a saliva sample via a kit they provide and send it back to them for testing. A few weeks later, you’ll receive comprehensive results and reports that detail DNA relatives, genetic carrier status for certain diseases, as well as a complete ancestry report tracing your DNA back to its geographical origins.
One of the more interesting reports you receive from 23andMe.com shows how much Neanderthal DNA you have. 23andMe explains, “The common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals is thought to be an extinct hominin named Homo heidelbergensis. The species inhabited much of Africa, Europe and probably Asia from at least 700,000 years ago until about 200,000 years ago. Homo heidelbergensis continued to evolve in Africa, eventually becoming anatomically-modern humans. The oldest remains that can be ascribed to anatomically-modern humans come from a site named Jebel Irhoud in Morocco that dates to 300,000 years ago.”
Apparently, almost 4% of my DNA comes from these extinct relatives and I have more Neanderthal DNA than 68% of other 23andMe customers. How much do you have? Where are your ancestors from? Are you a carrier of one of the DNA variants for Cystic Fibrosis or Hereditary Fructose Intolerance?
Family Fun - If you have children, get the whole family tested. It is fun and educational to discuss DNA history with the whole family. Yes, I’m serious. It is!
Take a Class - If you get really interested in the topic, edx.org has multiple classes from world-class universities available for you to take for FREE!!
Work in the Genetics Industry - And after you take a class, if you think you may want to consider a career in a related field, go for it!! You don’t have to be a scientist to go to work for a company that offers genetics-based services or products. They hire project managers and customer service people and IT personnel just like all companies.
Family Planning - If you’re planning on having children, consider working with a genetic counselor first. The insight you receive can put you at ease regarding the likelihood you and your spouse may pass on DNA that could result in a genetic disorder in your child.