Defective genes directly account for more than 4,000 hereditary human diseases -- including such maladies as Huntington disease and cystic fibrosis. In some such cases, a single misplaced letter among the three-billion-letter code can lead to a disease state.
The benefits of the genome project are already coming to light. A new era of molecular medicine is envisioned that is characterized not by treating symptoms, but rather by looking to the deepest causes of disease. Rapid and more accurate diagnostic tests will make possible earlier treatments. Insights into genetic susceptibilities to disease and to environmental damage, coupled with highly targeted pharmaceuticals, may soon help to attack diseases at their molecular foundations.
The DOE, with a long-abiding mission to understand and characterize the potential health risks posed by energy use and production, has established an unparalleled scientific and engineering infrastructure in its national laboratories and a track record of success in conducting large-scale multidisciplinary projects. In 1986, the DOE was the first federal agency to launch a major initiative to completely decipher the entire human genetic code. Building on the JGI's accomplishment this year, the DOE, according to Krebs, will invest approximately $250 million in the Joint Genome Institute over the next five years.
The full text of the genome program's five-year plan can be found at http://www.ornl.gov/hg5yp on the World Wide Web.