"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 suffice,
Since He is Witness over all things?"
Al-Qur'an, Surah Fusilat, 41: 53
"We have caught a glimpse of
an instruction book (of life)
previously known to God."
--Dr. Frances Collins,
Director of the National Human
Genome Research Institute,
National Institutes of Health,
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 genome.
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?
Children are 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.
The molecular 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.
Every individual 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.
Such precipitous 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 Material
When scientists 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.
DNA structurally 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
Through decoding 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.
A startling 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 career potential.