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The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international research effort to characterize the genomes of human and selected model organisms through complete mapping and sequencing of their DNA. To develop technologies for genomic analysis, to examine the ethical, legal, and social aspects of human genetics research, and to train scientists who will be able to utilize the tools and resources developed through the HGP to pursue biological studies that will improve human health

Cloning

In the early 1970s, biochemists showed that genetic traits could indeed be transferred from one organism to another. In this experiment, the DNA of one microorganism recombined with the inserted DNA sequence of another, and thus had been edited to exhibit a very specific modification. The actual editing, or insertion process, is painstaking, for it involves manipulating incredibly tiny pieces of incredibly tiny organisms. But the process can be explained in terms of editing a written paper: scissors and “glue” are used to “cut” and “paste.” The methods used in rDNA technology are fairly simple. Take, for example, the sentence (gene) for insulin production in humans and paste it into the DNA of Escherichia coli, a bacterium that inhabits the human digestive tract. The bacterial cells divide very rapidly making billions of copies of themselves, and each bacterium carries in its DNA a faithful replica of the gene for insulin production. Each new E. coli cell has inherited the human insulin gene sentence.

Stem Cells

Many health problems could be solved if the human body could regrow whatever tissue it needed…things like heart muscle, blood cells or nerve cells. Now, that’s a step closer to reality, as Johns Hopkins scientists have developed the first human embryonic stem cell lines. Theoretically, these “building block” cells can be genetically manipulated to form all the different cells and tissues of the human body. Someday, they may provide custom-made replacements for body tissue lost to disease or injury

It is not anticipated that this cell, or this type of a culture, would lead to the formation of a whole heart or a whole liver, and then it would be cells or tissues that would be transferred, not organs or organ parts.

Dr. Gearhart says this line of research may soon lead to the development of universal donor cells…cells that the body doesn’t recognize as transplants and won’t reject after an operation.

Research involving stem cells requires heightened oversight by medical and scientific ethicists. In 1994, the expert NIH committee Human Embryo Research Panel studied the issue thoroughly, examining both scientific and ethical issues. The panel’s report stated that stem cell research involving “preimplantation” human embryos is acceptable for federal funding.


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