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A Worldwide Effort

The Human Genome Project Around the World

National Center for Human Genome Research, National Institutes of Health. "New Tools for Tomorrow's Health Research." Bethesda, MD: Department of Health and Human Services, 1992.

The six-foot thread of DNA inside each human cell might be thought of as the thread unifying all of mankind. Because information about the human genome will be applicable to the entire human race, not only the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but also other U.S. agencies and indeed programs in other countries will fund and carry out the goals of the genome project.

In the U.S., institutions currently supporting genome programs include the NIH, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the privately funded Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

The DOE has established a human genome program to expand its ability to investigate the effects of radiation and energy-related chemicals on human genetic material. The major objectives of their program are the development of resources, including expanded sets of overlapping DNA fragments and new chromosome mapping and DNA sequencing technologies. Database management systems, including automated techniques for entering DNA sequences into databases, and computer systems for analyzing genome data, are also the focus of DOE efforts.

The NIH has established a formal Memorandum of Understanding with DOE, which lays out guidelines for interactions between the two agencies. The NIH's National Center for Human Genome Research (NCHGR) and DOE staff meet regularly, and a subcommittee of both DOE and NCHGR advisors meet to develop complementary research plans.

The USDA has begun to map and sequence the genomes of a number of plants important to agriculture and forestry. Already genetic linkage maps are being constructed for corn, tomatoes, wheat, potatoes, cotton, alfalfa, and grapes. Genes that control or influence flavor, yield, drought tolerance, or insect resistance for certain plants have been mapped.

The NSF has a special interest in developing hardware and software tools, providing instrumentation and facilities for genetic research, supporting basic genetics research (primarily on nonhuman organisms), and developing biological databases. In collaboration with the NCHGR and other agencies, the NSF has also launched a project to map and sequence the genome of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a relatively simple plant in the mustard family used widely in studies of plant genetics.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a private, non-profit organization, currently funds several resources important to the Human Genome Project. These include a database at the Center for the Study of Human Polymorphisms (CEPH) in Paris, which contains genetic linkage information on a large number of multi-generation families.

Internationally, NCHGR is collaborating with the Human Genome Organization (HUGO). Established in 1988, HUGO is an international consortium of molecular biologists organized to ensure that the genome project is coordinated internationally and that the information gleaned by project researchers will be freely accessible to scientists worldwide. HUGO will promote international cooperation and negotiate overlapping interests.

Other countries involved in human genome research include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada, and Israel. France's CEPH is a centerpiece for researchers developing genetic linkage and physical maps of the human genome. The Japanese are focusing efforts on developing automated technology for DNA sequencing, identifying E. coli, rice, a yeast chromosome, and Arabidopsis as models to sequence during technology development.


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