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Unraveling the sequence of the human genome was only the beginning.
Now we have to figure out how to fit this new knowledge within
the context of our daily lives
by Edward R.B. McCabe and Linda L. McCabe
Illustration by Arthur E. Giron
The sequence of the human genome —
all of the hereditary material in our cells — was completed
in April 2003. An observer of the celebrations might have thought
that genetics had come to its concluding act and all the rest
would be denouement. Perhaps history will show that we have completed
the first act, but we are certainly no farther along, if for no
other reason than that the science, if left to itself, must by
its very nature remain incomplete. Science is only of value when
it is used, and that requires it to be placed in the broader social
The 13-year effort to sequence the 3.2 billion base pairs of
DNA in the human genome was indeed a scientific tour de force.
But the genetics community and the media were guilty of “genohype,”
to use a term coined by Neil A. Holtzman of Johns Hopkins University.
The true challenge of genetics and genomics will be to understand
the potential impact of the science on us as individuals and as
members of social groups.
We hear much about the “genomic revolution” and how
the ability to read the “blueprint of life” will lead
to the prevention and amelioration of disease. But if we really
argue that genomic, or DNA-based, medicine will have immediate
and broad impact, then it might be said that such claims of immediate
benefit are also premature, pretentious and preposterous.