Page URL:

Human Genome Project ten years on: Breakthrough or hype?

21 February 2011
Appeared in BioNews 596

An article published by a group of international scientists has said an over emphasis on the Human Genome Project (HGP) may risk a 'backlash' in the field of genetics and has called for an evaluation of where the 'real benefits' from genomic medicine will come from.

Writing ten years after the human genome sequence was published, the scientists suggest that partly due to the complexity and cost of research the HGP had not yet lived up to expectations.

'The predictive value of so much of this genetic risk information is really quite low. It has proven to be far more complex and far more nuanced than imagined', said co-author of the article Professor Timothy Caulfield, director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, Canada.

The authors do note that since the release of the human genome sequence, medical advances have been made and decoding the genome has led to the improved application of specific cancer therapies.

However results of this nature, where the identification of new genetic mutations has led to changes in clinical treatment, have been relatively few compared to initial expectations. As Professor Evans of the University of North Carolina, one of the authors of the article, points out: 'Common diseases have many causes and genetics is only one factor'.

'Our argument is that we are not doing the field of genetics any favours if we unrealistically hype its promise', said Professor Evans. 'Indeed, by doing so, we risk a backlash that will set the field back'.

Although the HGP may not have yet fulfilled its potential in revolutionising medicine, it has shed light on the disease process. The authors write: 'The true promise of genomics is to help lay bare the mechanisms of human disease... Genome-wide association studies are illuminating loci that contribute to common disease, and novel drug targets are being identified that will ultimately lead to new therapies. But the timeline for translation of such discoveries will be long'.

The article was published in the journal Science.

Deflating the Genomic Bubble
Science |  18 February 2011
The human genome project, 10 years in: Did they oversell the revolution?
Globe and Mail |  17 February 2011
7 June 2021 - by Joseph Hawkins 
An international team of researchers claims to have sequenced the complete human genome, including areas which were missed in the original draft...
10 December 2012 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK Government has announced plans that will allow 100,000 NHS patients to have their whole genome sequenced over the next three to five years, as part of a move to boost economic growth in the life sciences industry...
5 November 2012 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
Over 1,000 people from 14 countries have had their genomes mapped by scientists. The researchers say their study will help them examine genetic variations at the scale of national populations and further identification of the rare genetic variations related to many diseases...
28 August 2012 - by James Brooks 
I'll brook no cynicism, the Olympics was a dazzling display of what makes Britain great. Which is to say: marketing, PR and weapons-grade hype...
8 May 2012 - by Sarah Norcross and Sandy Starr 
The conference 'Genomics in Society: Facts, Fictions and Cultures' marked the 10th anniversary of the Economic and Social Research Council's Genomics Network, and also the passing of nearly ten years since the completion of the Human Genome Project...
10 January 2011 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
The quest to sequence the first human genome has all the ingredients of a good thriller. Privately funded maverick scientist Dr Craig Venter raced the government-sponsored Human Genome Project (HGP) to be the first to sequence the human genetic code. When the draft code was finally published in 2001, it became one of the landmark scientific advances of the last decade...
1 November 2010 - by Professor Sandy Raeburn 
During the early, uncertain years of the Human Genome Project, Professor Bryan Clarke of the University of Nottingham kept challenging all Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) aficionados to explain how the new biological knowledge obtained would lead to medical advances. Bryan also kept asking - 'whose genome is being sequenced anyway'?...
13 September 2010 - by Dr Iain Brassington 
I'll admit right from the start that I'm a bit of a waste of time when it comes to science: I dropped most of it at 14 in favour of Latin, and the remainder of my school science was taught by an ageing physicist who spent most of the following 18 months telling a very involved shaggy-dog story about an octopus and some bagpipes...
19 July 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
Imagine singing a piece of your DNA. 'A', 'C' and 'G'- the first three letters of your genetic code - are easy because they have corresponding musical notes. The fourth letter, 'T', looks harder, but you can use 'ti' on the musical scale. Think 'tea' in the song 'Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun… Tea, a drink with jam and bread'...
28 June 2010 - by Professor Marcus Pembrey 
The 10th anniversary of the first draft of the human genome sequence has been characterised by justifiable celebration at the extraordinary progress in DNA sequencing technology, yet disappointment with the impact it has had on medicine to date. Is this disappointment also justified? Not really...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.