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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scientists Map Out Blueprint Of Life

WASHINGTON -- Researchers said Monday that they had completed the working map of the human genome, giving scientists a genetic blueprint that will transform medical care in the 21st century.

Some called the achievement the biological equivalent of the moon landing, while U.S. President Bill Clinton called it "a day for the ages."

Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said the breakthrough allows humans for the first time to read "our own instruction book. Today, we celebrate the revelation of the first draft of the human book of life."

At a news conference in London, hours ahead of the one scheduled in Washington, the Human Genome Project announced that scientists had decoded the 3.1 billion sub-units of DNA, the chemical "letters" that make up the recipe of human life.

The raw data from the publicly funded international Human Genome Project provides researchers with 97 percent of the human genetic code, a starting point, or basic set of instructions on how humans develop and function.

Researchers will use the 3.1 billion letters that make up human DNA to identify the estimated 60,000 to 100,000 genes in humans and to find where they are located on chromosomes and how they contribute to disease.

"Over the decades and centuries to come, this sequence will inform all of medicine, all of biology, and will lead us to a total understanding of not only human beings but all of life," said Dr. John Sulston, the lead British researcher who sequenced one-third of the genome.

President Clinton, joined at the White House announcement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who appeared by satellite transmission, hailed completion of the work after a 10-year race that cost billions.

"Today we are learning the language in which God created life," Clinton said. "We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift."

He likened the achievement to Galileo's celestial searchings and the mapping of the American wild by explorers Lewis and Clark. He also cautioned that the genetic map must never be used to segregate, discriminate or invade the privacy of human beings.

Said Blair: "Let us be in no doubt about what we are witnessing today: A revolution in medical science whose implications far surpass even the discovery of antibiotics, the first great technological triumph of the 21st century."

Now that the genome has been roughly mapped, "the real work begins," said Collins at the National Human Genome Research Institute.

"We've been racing down white water in a narrow channel trying to get the sequencing done," Collins said. "Now we're opening into the ocean" where the research possibilities and the effects on medicine are almost limitless.

"There is a very long list of things that we can now do, all of which will greatly benefit medicine," said Collins.

Researchers now will concentrate on finding disease-causing genes and developing therapies that treat disorders at the fundamental, molecular level.

In London, Dr. Michael Dexter of Britain's Wellcome Trust, a part of the public project, said: "Mapping the human genome has been compared to putting a man on the moon. But I believe that in terms of the future impact on society, the human genome project will be seen as the outstanding achievement, not only of our lifetime, but perhaps in the history of mankind."

Dexter said the research should be available to all f an apparent jibe at Celera boss, American scientist-entrepreneur J. Craig Venter, who has made no secret of wanting to profit from the discovery, possibly by patenting it. "It should not be owned by one individual, one company, or one country," Dexter said.

Scientists believe that eventually medicine will be able to identify from birth the diseases that a person may develop and to provide treatment to extend life and health beyond what was ever possible before.

"The information obtained from the genetic blueprint will have major implications for understanding disease processes f especially cancer," said Sir Paul Nurse, director general of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

The public project is a joint effort of agencies of the American National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy, several universities and the Wellcome Trust in Britain. Researchers in Germany and Japan also participated. The hundreds of scientists from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and China who have been working on the publicly funded Human Genome Project in 16 centers around the globe have been downloading information daily on the Internet.

Celera Genomics Inc., of Rockville, Maryland, has also been sequencing the data and has promised to make it public.

The information is already providing researchers with data on diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease and diabetes to cancers and birth defects.

"The most immediate impact will be on diagnosis. As we come to see every gene we can assess the variations in those genes and we can see how they correlate with particular states of sickness or health," Sulston explained.

It will mean diseases can be diagnosed and treated earlier and medicines can be custom-made and targeted more accurately. In the future scientists will be able to identify the faulty genes and replace them.

"We shall see the growing of therapies of various kinds, but nobody should look for that to happen very fast. To actually correct genes that aren't working well will be hard but it will happen bit by bit over the next decades," said British researcher Sulston.

Along with its medical benefits, the sequencing of the human genome has lifted the lid on a Pandora box's of ethical and legal issues. Critics warn that the information could be used by insurance companies and employers to discriminate against people who have a genetic susceptibility to certain disease.

Disabled people fear the information will be used to create perfect people and some scientists claim the benefits of the achievement will only be enjoyed by people living in wealthy countries.