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The Future of Genetics

The HGP began in 1990, it is a 13-year effort coordinated and funded by the U. S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. The Human Genome Projects goals are to identify all the 100,000 genes in human DNA; determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA; store this information in databases; develop tools for data analysis; transfer related technologies to the private sector; and address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project. A working draft of the human sequence was completed earlier this year, 2000.

The U. S. Human Genome Project (HGP), composed of the DOE and NIH Human Genome Programs, is the national coordinated effort to characterize all human genetic material by determining the complete sequence of the DNA in the human genome. The HGP’s ultimate goal is to discover all the more than 80,000 human genes and render them accessible for further biological study. To facilitate the future interpretation of human gene function, parallel studies are being carried out on selected model organisms, such as Drosophilia Melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans.

According to the department of energy program report, a perfect draft of the human sequence is due in 2003. Some of the ways that geneticists use to map the Human Gene are Atomic Force Microscopy of Biochemically Tagged DNA, Intracellular Flow Karyotyping, and Electrotransformation for Introducing DNA into Industrial Bacilli Intracellular flow karyotyping appears to be a feasible and beneficial method for analyzing karyotype aberrations from individual cells using flow cytogenetics.

The flow karyotyping method allows quantification of chromosomal DNA by flow cytometry and thus analysis of chromosomal aberrations on chromosome suspensions. Amounts of data providing statistical significance can be collected quickly and the approach allows accurate mapping of chromosomal DNA composition. The limitation of the method is at the cellular level of analysis, which is an impossibility to detect low-frequency or heterogeneous events, with this method. The aim of this intracellular flow karyotyping project is improving the technology to extend the method to the analysis of karyotype aberrations from individual cells.

This technology might be especially useful for the detection and quantification of heterogeneous abnormalities. Chromosomal changes of this type occur through ionising radiation exposure and are involved in karyotype instability and tumorigenesis. This approach will be investigated both for biological dosimetry purposes, especially in low-dose contexts (count of abnormal cells, count of abnormalities per cell) and for research purposes (karyotype instability known as tumorigenesis).

Preliminary results demonstrating the feasibility were obtained using hydrodynamic destruction of mitotic cells by capillary flow, high gradient devices and monovariate (DNA quantification) flow karyotyping. This approach of cell membrane destruction will be optimised and alternative methods (particularly ultrasonic disintegration) developed. The intracellular staining method of chromosomes with DNA specific fluorochromes will be improved especially for dual parameter (DNA content and base pair composition quantification) intracellular flow karyotype analysis.

The method will be adapted for modern serial flow, cytometer systems (first step: partners’ equipment). The development of new algorithms and computer programs for data interpretation is in progress. In parallel to the technical improvements pilot research using different human cell line models will be conducted to investigate the method’s parameters. Another way used to map genes is Atomic Force Microscopy of Biochemically Tagged DNA. According to the 1998 cytometry report by V Zenin, this process uses small DNA fragments of a known length.

They are made using a polymerase chain reaction. These frag-ments contain biotin molecules, usually vitamin H, covalently attached to each end. Then the DNA is labeled with streptavidin. This tetrameric complex was expected to bind up to four DNA molecules via their attached biotin molecules. The DNA is then imaged with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Images revealed the protein at the end of the DNA strands as well as the presence of dimers, trimers, and tetramers of DNA bound to a single protein.

Imaging time was about 1 min. The DOE Program report states With these results, we believe we have shown that AFM does have sufficient resolution to map DNA. In its simplest form, mapping involves measuring the physical distance between two points of DNA. In this experiment we have demonstrated the ability of AFM to perform this task by attaching a large protein marker to genetically engineered pieces of human DNA and using AFM to locate the marker and measure the known length from the protein to the other end of the DNA.

Electrotransformation for Introducing DNA into Industrial Bacilli is perhaps one of the most interesting techniques developed by the Human Genome Project, because of its industrial uses. According to PATN, “Electrotransformation” (ET) is the process whereby genetic material is taken up into a host cell and subsequently becomes part of the host cell genome by utilization of long-term, non-pulsed electric current for a sufficient time to effect transformation.

The project is based on experiments revealing the unexpected roles of electric field intensity for cell-wall permeability and the dependence of pulse shape on ET efficiency. The observations became apparent through use of a specially constructed apparatus in which electric pulse parameters were independent of cell suspension; thus allowing pulse shapes to vary. Geneticists first use enzymes to cut out small sections of DNA. Then they insert the DNA in the place of the DNA of the bacilli. The bacilli then produce what the small section of DNA tells it to produce.

Thus the advent of industrially interesting microbes. According to IFS News, genetically produced “human” insulin was introduced in 1982. Prior to this highly purified bovine or porcine insulin had been used which had successfully removed the skin and injection site problems, which was common with the older, less pure insulin. In this case, scientists used electrotransformation. When they had accomplished this feat, the worlds insulin supply became much higher as well as less costly, and the promise of dollars drew new companies.

Celera Genomics Corp. is the Human Genome Projects larges competitor in the United States. Celera and the HGP both announced their rough draft of the human geneon the same day. Celera Genomics is a privately funded company. Its main goal is to gain control of the genetic medicines market by finishing the map of the genome first and then patenting the process and the genes themselves, thereby forcing everyone to pay a royalty on every genetically based drug or test. However Celera Genomics is not the least of the HGPs worries.

Laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability provide the most likely current source of protection against genetic discrimination in the workplace. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and similar disability-based anti-discrimination laws such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, do not explicitly address genetic information, but have been interpreted to provide some protection against disability-related genetic discrimination in the workplace. The ADA prohibits discrimination against a person who is regarded as having a disability and protects individuals with symptomatic genetic disabilities the same as individuals with other disabilities.

However it does not protect against discrimination based on unexpressed genetic conditions, does not protect potential workers from requirements or requests to provide genetic information to their employers after a conditional offer of employment has been extended but before they begin work and does not protect workers from requirements to provide medical information that is job related and consistent with business necessity. Another law, which addresses the concerns of genetic science is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The HIPAA applies to employer-based and commercially issued group health insurance only. It is the only federal law that directly addresses the issue of genetic discrimination. There is no similar law applying to private individuals seeking health insurance in the individual market.

The HIPAA prohibits group health plans from using any health status-related factor, including genetic information, as a basis for denying or limiting eligibility for coverage or for charging an individual more for coverage, and limits exclusions for preexisting conditions in group health plans to 12 months and prohibits such exclusions if the individual has been covered previously for that condition for 12 months or more. It states explicitly that genetic information in the absence of a current diagnosis of illness shall not be considered a preexisting condition. However it does not prohibit employers from refusing to offer health coverage as part of their benefits packages. Thus the question still remains, who can see your genes? These laws do not cover all of what may be done with genetics, thus more legislation is needed.

The Human Genome Project information suggests that insurance providers should be prohibited from using genetic information or an individual’s request for genetic services in order to deny or limit any coverage or establish eligibility, continuation, enrollment, or contribution requirements. Insurance providers should be prohibited from establishing differential rates or premium payments based on genetic information or an individual’s request for genetic services. And lastly insurance providers should be prohibited from requesting or requiring collection or disclosure of genetic information. Insurance providers and other holders of genetic information should be prohibited from releasing genetic information without the individual’s prior written authorization.

Written authorization should be required for each disclosure and include to whom the disclosure would be made. Legislation for genetics information laws is needed immediately, because Based on genetic information, employers may try to avoid hiring workers they believe are likely to take sick leave, resign, or retire early for health reasons (creating extra costs in recruiting and training new staff), file for workers’ compensation, or use healthcare benefits excessively. Despite the consequences, some employers may seek to use genetic tests to discriminate against workers–even those who do not and may never show signs of disease–because the employers fear the cost consequences.

The economic incentive to discriminate based on genetic information is likely to increase as genetic research advances and the costs of genetic testing decrease. Genetic predisposition or conditions can lead to workplace discrimination, even in cases where workers are healthy and unlikely to develop disease or where the genetic condition has no effect on the ability to perform work. Given the substantial gaps in state and federal protections against employment discrimination based on genetic information, comprehensive federal legislation is needed to ensure that advances in genetic technology and research are used to address the health needs of the nation–and not to deny individuals employment opportunities and benefits.

Federal legislation would establish minimum protections that could be supplemented by state laws. Opponents of genetics research argue that insurers can still use genetic information in the individual market in decisions about coverage, enrollment, and premiums. Insurers can still require individuals to take genetic tests. They state that individuals are not protected from the disclosure of genetic information to insurers, plan sponsors (employers), and medical information bureaus, without their consent. One suggestion is to strengthen the penalties in HIPPA for discrimination and disclosure violations, in order to ensure individuals of the protections afforded by the legislation.

What will be done with genetic information is still a mystery until genetics has become a thriving industry, by then, legislation will have come too late to help. Meaghan Taylor states in her student life article that No one really knows the specific benefits the public will receive. They are trying to predict it but they just dont know. In short, the future of the genetics industry is shrouded in mystery, which Michael Becker of beckongenetics calls confusion. However it seems that whatever the outcome of the genetics race, the future will be bright and shinny when all the laws are laid down, and the human race will enter a new age of evolution.