30 years ago – the Human Genome Project

Thirty years ago, on October 1st 1990, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was officially launched.  This project, conducted jointly by teams of American, European and Asian scientists, was one of the most ambitious enterprises ever envisioned to sequence and map out all the genes of members of our own species. It took almost 13 years to completely sequence the first genome. In the US, the National Human Genome Research (NHGRI) has been continuing to study genomics and research ethical and social issues related to genetic testing. The outcomes of the HGP have been extraordinary, ranging from the personal (discovering your family’s national origin(s) or finding long lost cousins), to archeology (sequencing of ancient DNA), to health (genetic predisposition to diseases), to forensics (solving cold cases through DNA matching).

In 2020, EAS decided to participate in the celebration by inviting Dr. Eric Green*, the director of NHGRI, to deliver the keynote lecture (Monday Nov 16th, 1PM EST). We thought the HGP was a brilliant illustration of the theme of the 2020 EAS, “Analytical Science, cornerstone of innovation” and of the invaluable contributions of analytical scientists to innovation in other fields of research.  On the analytical side, the HGP adventure was made possible by the development of capillary array electrophoresis with laser induced fluorescence detection. The technique had been shown to efficiently amplify and separate DNA fragments using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and the application to genome sequencing had been demonstrated on animal species with a simpler genetic makeup before turning to human DNA. In turn the application to HGP was a boost to further development of DNA sequencers with improvements in speed, sample throughput, sensitivity, etc.  This cycle of analytical innovation leading to a scientific discovery leading in turn to improvements in analytical techniques is what makes us excited to be analytical scientists.

*In his bio, Dr. Eric Green states that he’s been at the NHGRI for more than 25 years, and has worked on the HGP for almost his entire career.

Keynote lecture: Monday Nov 16, 2020, 1:00-2:00PM EST

If you want to be part of the HGP 30-year anniversary celebration, you can upload a short video on the NHGRI website to share your thoughts on the HGP.