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Human Genome News Archive Edition

Human Genome News, September 1992; 4(3)

The Genie in the Genome: A Choices and Challenges Forum

On April 9 more than 500 people attended The Genie in the Genome, a 1-day forum held at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. The meeting was designed to enable a highly diverse audience to learn about the Human Genome Project and to examine social, ethical, and public policy issues raised by this scientific effort. The conference was sponsored by the NIH National Center for Human Genome Research and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy.

The April conference was part of the Choices and Challenges project, directed by Doris T. Zallen, which was initiated in 1985 at Virginia Tech to identify and address humanistic aspects of rapidly growing scientific and technological areas. Thirteen previous forums, each focused on one topic, have explored widely varied subjects ranging from the medical and psychological to advances in physics and engineering.

Program sessions:

  • Morning tutorial sessions providing basic scientific background, information on potential medical applications, and an overview of ethical and religious aspects.
  • Plenary session featuring a panel of speakers who explored the scientific and humanistic aspects of the genome project.
  • Postplenary discussion groups on international issues, healthcare effects, and strategies for bringing the Human Genome Project into the classroom.

The plenary session, moderated by Zallen, allowed many opportunities for audience questions and comments. The interactive video teleconference session was broadcast via satellite to more than 30 educational institutions and healthcare facilities throughout the United States.

Invited panelists were Robert Cook-Deegan (National Academy of Sciences), Daniel Kevles (California Institute of Technology), Abbey Meyers (National Organization for Rare Disorders), J. Robert Nelson (Institute of Religion, Texas Medical Center), Martin Rechsteiner (University of Utah School of Medicine), and Norton Zinder (Rockefeller University). These panelists provided historical context, debated the scientific goals, and probed likely personal and societal effects.

In reviewing the success of the conference, Zallen stated that a vigorous and multifaceted publicity campaign attracted people from varied disciplines, professions, and stages of life. Many of these groups are generally not reached, she said, and may have been underrepresented at other conferences. Attendees included homemakers, healthcare professionals, scientists, lawyers, retirees, teachers and other educators, local pastors, storekeepers, and people concerned about inherited illness in their families.

Zallen also stated that the most prominent participants at other conferences on the Human Genome Project (i.e., physicians, scientists, and ethicists) were brought into contact with individuals whose ideas they seldom hear. Doctors, potential patients, lawyers, clergy, scientists, and the general public exchanged points of view.

The lively interactions fostered by the conference program, Zallen continued, have stimulated analysis of the Human Genome Project by the regional press and local groups and have demonstrated the value of making educational programs accessible to the wider community.


A transcript and video tape of the plenary session are available from the Choices and Challenges Project; 351 Lane Hall, Virginia Tech; Blacksburg, VA 24061-0227; 703/231-4216. The transcript is free, and the video (2 hours and 20 minutes long) can be provided for the cost of duplication and shipping.


Reported by Doris Zallen
Virginia Tech

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Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v4n3).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.