HGP Scientists Finish Three Chromosome Maps
Jessie Seyfer,
Associated Press Writer

8:04 PM EDT; April 13, 2000; San Francisco, CA (AP) -- In their race to blueprint the human genome, government-sponsored scientists said Thursday they have finished "rough draft" maps of three complete chromosomes. The announcement by the Walnut Creek, CA-based Joint Genome Institute made it the first of five publicly-funded labs -- collectively known as the Human Genome Project -- to finish its allotted part of the mapping mission.

Specifically, the California lab said it has mapped chromosomes 5, 16, and 19, which make up roughly 11 percent of the human genome and contain vital information about kidney disease, various cancers, hypertension, and diabetes. "Three chapters in the reference book of human life are nearly complete," said Department of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "This is big stuff, and I'm really proud of these guys."

The 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human genome are made up of coiled strands of DNA. When stretched out, the elegant DNA molecules look like ladders whose rungs are chemical bonds, known as base pairs. Different arrangements of base pairs make up the code for 100,000 known human genes. The genes, in turn, form a blueprint for the assembly of proteins that guide the form and function of cells. Researchers believe that by identifying each gene and determining its effect, medical science will find new ways to treat or prevent birth defects and illnesses.

Jasper Rine, a Professor of Genetics at the University of California at Berkeley, said Thursday's announcement is "obviously good news." "The human genome sequence, even a rough draft, is a very important beginning to understanding the most important historical document of humanity," he said. "Genome sequences are really a marvelous gift to all basic sciences."

Thursday's news came a week after the private company Celera Genomics, of Rockville, MD, announced it had already accomplished the same goal, also in a rough form. The two sides are in a fierce battle to complete the project first. In contrast to Celera, the Federal project is releasing to the public the genetic sequences as they are identified. While the government maps produced so far are only rough estimates of exact gene sequences, scientists said they are still immensely useful tools.


On the Web:

1. Joint Genome Institute: www.jgi.doe.gov

2. U.S. Department of Energy Human Genome Program: www.er.doe.gov/production/ober/genome.html

3. HGP News:: www.ornl.gov/hgmis/archive/news.html

4. Celera: www.celera.com/cekerascience/index.cfm