Life After the Human Genome Project (Part II) ((By Jade))

In my previous post, I wrote a super-brief summary of what we’ve learned from the Human Genome Project.  We’ve learned a lot.  But we’ve learned a lot about “the” human genome, comprised of DNA taken mainly from individuals likely to be of European ancestry.  We’ve learned about the chemical building blocks to create “a” human being – not how to create different humans or describe common patterns in sequencing or distinguish lineages.  But the HGP has definitely opened the floodgates, and now we’re amid exciting new genome projects…

The following are 3 genetic projects I discovered while working on an ancestry presentation for class.  They have all stemmed from the HGP, but are distinct in their motivations and goals.

The International Hap Map

The International Hap Map is a multi-country collaboration to compare genetic sequences, identify regions of variation and locate patterns of shared DNA.  The Hap Map seeks to understand how DNA is distributed among and within the world’s populations.  It is expected to be a key resource for researchers to use in order to find genes affecting health, disease, and responses to drugs and environmental factors. The information produced by the Project will be made freely available.

The Human Genome Diversity Project

The HGDP is spearheaded by Stanford University, and collaborates with laboratories around the world to collect biological samples from many endogenous populations, thus creating a database of human genetic diversity.  The information is banked at the Foundation Dausse-CEPH in Paris and has been useful in analyzing human migration and evolution.  Data is available for non-profit research laboratories at a cost.  The project ran into ethical dilemmas early on, but Stanford’s website claims they have since “met the criteria set by the HGDP Ethics Committee.”

The Genographic Project

The Genographic Project is an undertaking led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells along with a team of IBM scientists.  It also seeks to understand human migratory history, and attempts to do so by collecting DNA contributed voluntarily from participants around the world.   The project’s overarching ambition is to support indigenous conservation and revitalization projects, which will be funded by individuals who purchase a Genographic Project Public Participation Kit.  “The Project is anonymous, non-medical, non-profit and all results will be placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication.”

If you’re interested in contributing your own DNA to this real-time project, the link is here .  I have no affiliation with National Geographic, although it would be cool if I did.

Note: Just in case I didn’t make this clear, none of these projects attempts to sequence entire genomes.  That process is – currently – too inefficient and expensive.  Instead, they use common “hotspots” of variation.  A common type of “hotspot” is called SNPs, which are single nucleotide polymorphisms, or single letter differences.  When scientists are only targeting SNPs, they can engage in a more efficient process of tracking differences, tracing lineages, and finding regions that may promote disease.  

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