The first detailed survey of the human genetic code is revealing many striking things about the blueprint for making a human being. Among them: how similar we all are to each other. And how different.
The findings, to be formally announced Monday and published later this week, reveal for instance that members of two different racial groups can be more alike than members of the same group.
The studies also reveal that two unrelated people are unexpectedly alike, differing on average at just 1 out of every 1,000 sites in our DNA.
Yet even that small difference adds up to roughly 3 million places in DNA where tiny disparities exist between two people's genetic codes. That's enough to create all the known genetic variety, from simple traits such as eye color to more complicated ones such as higher risks for depression or heart disease, according to the new findings published by two groups, the Human Genome Project and privately funded research by Celera Genomics Corp. The genome project was funded largely by the U.S. government and a British charity.
Today, because of the genome effort, places in our DNA where those differences occur have been cataloged in detail unimaginable just a few years ago. This new information will have a huge effect on biology and medicine, scientists say. It will allow them to track down genes for medical conditions and other human traits that have proved elusive up until now.
"Everyone wants to do these studies, but so far we've been doing them in a very incomplete way, sort of like old-time prospectors who go some place and pan, look hard, then move on," says Aravinda Chakravarti, director of the Institute for Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. "This is the first time we've had a chance to look at the genome in a comprehensive way."
Both Celera and the genome project announced last June that they had completed efforts to describe the chemical structure of all but a fraction of the human genetic code.
This week, the journals Science and Nature report the genome's "sequence" -- the long strings of chemical building blocks known as A's, Cs, Ts and Gs that comprise our DNA. They also describe what scientists have learned so far from scrutinizing the reams of data.
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