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The Human Genome Project

  1: What is the public project for sequencing the human genome?
  2: Has the human genome been completely sequenced?
  3: How many genes do humans have?
  4: Why is it so difficult to find the genes in a human genome sequence?
  5: Where did the sequenced human DNA come from?
  6: Is the human genome “freely available”? If not, who owns it?
  7: Why was there a Human Genome Project What is its use?
  8: Who were the members of the international consortium What was the role of each of them?
  9: What was the French contribution to the Human Genome Project?
  10: How much did the Human Genome Project cost?
  11: With the end of the Human Genome Project, are the large sequencing centers still useful?

  At the beginning of the 1990s the international scientific community laid the groundwork for a project that, because of its importance, was dubbed the “Apollo Project for Biology.” Its objective was to obtain the complete sequence of the human genome—3.2 billion nucleotides, or, in a writing analogy, the contents of 2000 books of 500 pages each—for the beginning of the third millenium. Because of the size of this genome, the large sequencing centers joined to form an international consortium to share the task. Each of the 20 institutions of the “public” consortium (financed by public funds or foundations) sequenced specific chromosomes or chromosomal regions, of the 24 human chromosomes (see the list of the members of the consortium and their contributions). Each center agreed to deposit the sequence data in public databases as soon as it was produced.

The first years of the Human Genome Project were devoted to mapping: the establishment of physical maps (covering each chromosome with an ensemble of large genomic fragments arranged in order based on their overlaps) and linkage maps (an ensemble of markers whose relative positions on the chromosomes had been determined). The actual large-scale sequencing efforts didn’t begin until 1998.

The end of the Human Genome Project was initially planned for 2005, but progress in sequencing technology during the 1990s as well as renewed financing from the sponsoring institutions made it possible to finish before this date: a first draft of the sequence of the human genome was celebrated in June 2000 at the White House, and the finishing work was completed in April 2003, two years ahead of time. A complete and 99.99% precise version of the human genome sequence is freely accessible on-line today, available to scientists all over the world. The identification of human genes is continuing, but most of them have already been located on the sequence, and characterized.

The Human Genome Project included additional objectives which were also achieved ahead of time. This included a catalog of positions in the “generic” sequence of the human genome which vary from one individual to another (more than 4 million of these have already been recorded) and the production of a good-quality sequence of the genome of the mouse: the knowledge of the genome of this mammal which has been used as an animal model in genetics for almost a century, is of great importance for the interpretation of the human genome sequence.

Last update on 22 January 2008

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