Simple Explanation of the Human Genome Project (HGP)
Posted on: March 1, 2021.

Author: Prabhukrishna M, Content Creator/Chief Editor, Yokibu Editorial

Firstly, What is “genome”?

  • Genome is the complete set of genes in an organism—from the smallest virus to human beings.
  • The cells of every living organism contain genetic material.
  • Genetic material is found within tiny, threadlike structures called chromosomes.
  • Each chromosome contains protein and a single molecule of DNA—”Deoxyribonucleic Acid”.
  • Each DNA is a sequence of smaller units, called nucleotide bases, in pairs—called base pairs.

The human genome—the entire genetic information of a human being—is stored within 23 pairs of chromosomes—a total of 46.

DNA molecules—the functional unit of each chromosome—are contained within the nucleus of each cell, and their “mitochondria”.

The mitochondria—“powerhouse of the cell” that converts energy from food into a form that cells use—contain small amounts of their own DNA called “mt-DNA”.

Secondly, What is a “gene”?

  • A gene is a combination of nucleotide base pairs.
  • Genes contain genetic information—the biological blueprint of an organization—passed on from one generation of the organism to the next, through reproduction.
  • According to the latest estimate, the human genome contains 20,400 genes.

Finally, what is the “Human Genome Project”?

  • The HGP was an international scientific research project launched in 1990, and successfully completed 13 years later, ending in 2003.
  • The HGP aimed to discover the exact makeup of the genetic material that controls the way human beings develop and grow.
  • The project sequenced 3.3 billion nucleotide base pairs—the entire human genome.
  • The order and location of all genes were discovered.

What were the steps followed in the process?

  • Isolating the complete set of genes from a cell.
  • Splitting the set of genes into small fragments.
  • Amplifying the DNA structure using artificial chromosomes of bacteria and yeast as vectors.
  • Sequencing the smaller fragments using DNA sequencers.
  • Arranging each fragment on the basis of overlapping regions.
  • Storing all information of the genome sequence in a computer-based program. Eventually, the entire human genome was sequenced and digitally stored as a computerized genome database.
  • Mapping of the genome achieved with the help of microsatellites (repetitive DNA sequences).

What did the HGP discover?

  • There are an average of 3,000 nucleotide bases in the DNA sequence of a gene.
  • There are 3,164.7 million—or 3.16 billion—nucleotide base pairs in the entire human genome.
  • The functions of only less than 50 percent of the genes have been discovered.
  • Only 20,000 genes—i.e., 1.5 percent of the genome—codes for proteins.
  • The total number of unique human proteins comes to a few million.
  • At least 80 percent of the genome has definite functions.
  • 99.9 percent of one person’s genome is identical to that of another—it is the 0.1 percent that makes each person different!

Vast information and knowledge is now available about the sequences of DNA which constitute our chromosomes, having culminated into a disciplinary study called bioinformatics/computational biology.

However, what the genome actually does is now only partly known. Applying this knowledge in practice has only begun—since 2005—and continues, having completed 15-17 years being underway.

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