Cracking the Code of Life
Through the video “Cracking the Code of Life” I got a chance to delve into the human genome and learn about DNA.
The Human Genome Project is a project on which multiple government teams raced against the company Celera in order to decode the human genome. The goal of the Human Genome Project is to map all three billion letters of the Human Genome, and to provide access to this map so that people may search to find cures and answers.
In the old process of gene mapping, the code has to be written off letter by letter after being run through gel electrophoresis. Letters were copied of by hand, and it was much easier to make mistakes. A couple hundred letters in a day was good.
Although its hard to know all of the possible uses for this code, knowing the code will tell us what a human genome looks like. This can aid us in identifying and curing diseases, coming up with medicine, and gaining a better understanding about how humans work.
One of the disorders the video showed as an example of the good the human genome project may eventually bring is Tay Sach’s. Tay Sach’s is a recessive disease that results because of one single mistaken nucleotide in DNA. It results in the inability to produce the protein that removes fat from the brain. Because fat cannot be removed, it takes up space, killing the brain cells of the child that results. The Human Genome Project may eventually allow gene to be tested for Tay Sachs, so that they are aware that they are both carriers before deciding to have a child.
Examining the human genome project also gave us a chance to examine others who were exploring the human genome. Celera is a private company that is sequencing the genome and racing the government teams. Craig Venter is the scientist/ businessman in charge of Celera. Celera aims to build and gather information from all types of genomes, sell them to universities, other scientists.
This leads to a question of the difference between public and private groups searching to unlock the genome. Public groups aim to make this publicly accessible, both so researchers can continue to explore it further in the future and so ordinary people have access to this map. Private groups use the information to make money in someway, whether directly or indirectly. Businesses will use this information to make money by making the human genome available to others- and the sequences of other genomes. Also, because it is possible to patent parts of the human genome, business can have limited monopolies on certain aspects.
Another case examined in this film was Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disorder in which the proteins for the ion channels that allow salt to flow out of the cell are not manufactured properly. Salt cannot flow out. This causes a mucus membrane to form, which must be physically removed. Toni Robbins, and others like her (who are very rare) have the gene for cystic fibrosis but didn’t experience it right away. Until her fifteenth year, Toni Robbins showed no symptoms, and doctors guess that other proteins are counteracting cystic fibrosis, keeping her alive. This is fascinating, because it points to a level of discovery even deeper than the human genome.
The proteome, like the genome, is the collection of all proteins. It is important because it is proteins that show gene expression, and they are the next piece of the puzzle, offer possible further answers to the study of humans and other organism. This may have been, in Toni Robbins case, one of the missing pieces not seen solely in the DNA.
Of course, in studying the human genome, many ethical issues are raised. One such issue is this question:
Should parents be able to choose the DNA of their child? Why or why not:
I don’t know. I have a hard time deciding on this. I think guardedly yes, but only if everyone has this opportunity, or else it becomes a lead in for the wealthy to have perfect children while the poor suffer through diseases, further widening the socio-economic gap.
Further options that studying the human genome may make available are tests for dangerous and fatal diseases. If I could take these tests, I would, because I think being able to have even the awareness that you have the disease is important. I would live like differently if I knew I had a serious disease- work harder to experience the fullness of life right away, instead of saying up until later.
Would you want to know if you had a fatal disease?
DNA. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest.Web. 15 Dec 2013.http://quest.eb.com/images/139_1891610