Milestone in Human Genetics to be Announced Monday

8:08 AM PDT; June 23, 2000; (CNN and Reuters) -- In a major step toward a new era of gene-based medicine and disease treatment, two research centers are expected to announce on Monday that they separately have sketched a map detailing the secrets of human genetic structure. Scientists say their project -- called sequencing the human genome -- eventually will enable them to determine what each gene does.

The Human Genome Project and Celera Genomics Group will hold news conferences in Washington, D.C. and London. (Announcements are also expected in London at the Sanger Center, where some of the sequencing work has been conducted.)

Some scientists have said this breakthrough -- which comes ten years after the project was started -- is as significant as man walking on the moon. Experts believe the information provided by the genome projects will forever change the practice of medicine and the health care of human beings, by paving the way for new drugs and medical therapies.

The Human Genome Project is an international consortium supported mostly by the U.S. National

Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust, a philanthropic organization based in London. Celera Genomics is a private company based in Rockville, Maryland.

Those looking 10 and 20 years into the future see more individualized drugs, fewer adverse drug reactions, the ability to regenerate and grow human body parts, and the technology to prevent disease and birth defects in babies even before they are born.

Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, said " It's hard to overstate the importance of reading our own instruction book, and that's what the Human Genome Project is all about." Collins told CNN that the mapping of the human genome will open new doors in treating and researching an endless list of diseases that are currently incurable.

"You're going to see a proliferation of discoveries about the genetic contributions to diabetes and heart disease and high blood pressure and schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis and on down the list," he said. "Conditions that we know have genetic contributions but which have been rather difficult to nail down, this set of power tools that the genome project is producing will accelerate this discovery process rather dramatically, and we're going to see the consequences of that in the next three to five years," Collins said.

Craig Ventor, who heads Celera, said the next step in the project is the "interpretation phase." "That is really the fun part of the whole project because then we finally have the complete order of all the layers of genetic code and we have to discover what it all means," he said. Ventor said this is the first time in history that scientists will be able to look at the "biology of the gene, how those genes relate to each other to cause us to be alive." Ventor said the advances should come quickly, adding that what once took 10 years can now be done in 15 seconds due to advanced technology and computers.

Although the public and private groups are using different methods in their human genome projects, they both have as a goal the discovery of the chemicals of the approximately 80,000 genes that make up the human body. Each chemical is assigned a letter (A, C, G, T). Now that the sequencing is complete, scientists will look for the genetic variations in people -- variations that could be the cause of countless diseases.