Human Genome

The beginning and the end of a long journey

Three specialists assess the importance of sequencing the human genome

On June 26, simultaneously in Washington and London, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, announced the conclusion of the mapping of the human genome by two rival groups engaged on the task: the international public consortium the Human Genome Project, coordinated by Francis Collins, director of the National Health Institutes of the United States, and the private American company Celera Genomics, of Craig Venter. The accomplishment was news throughout the world and Clinton compared it, from the point of view of its impact on knowledge, to the discovery of America and sending humans to the moon. For scientists, it was the start of something that will revolutionize medicine in the future, but which, for the time being, is only the beginning of a long journey in the attempt to learn to read a book when we have only the letters and words.

Anyhow, the mapping announcement has already led to an escalation of the debate about  whether the genes should be patented or be in the public domain, that is to say, made available to scientists around the world. Other complex and relevant questions in the field of the ethics of biology will also dominate the scene in the years to come.

Pesquisa FAPESP asked three specialists to write about the mapping of the human genome and its repercussions from different points of view : André Goffeau, researcher at the Institut Curie, in Paris, coordinator of the first sequencing project of a complex organism – yeast – carried out by a network of European laboratories, and the international supervisor of the Xylella Genome Project, underlined the need for genetic information to be in the public domain; Marco Antônio Zago, professor at the School of Medicine in Ribeirão Preto and coordinator of one of the centers in the sequencing of the Human Cancer Genome Project, has written about the post-genome era and Brazil; while the geneticist  Francisco Mauro Salzano, of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, has dealt with the evolution of genetics and genomics and their new challenges as branches of Science.