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Human Genome Quarterly, Spring 1989; 1(1)

DOE Human Genome Program

The Human Genome Initiative was proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy in 1986 following the completion of a human genome project feasibility workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In April 1987 the initiative was endorsed by a report from the Department's Health and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (HERAC). The HERAC report urged DOE and the nation to commit to a large, long-term, multidisciplinary, technological undertaking to order and sequence the human genome.

Involvement in this initiative was seen as a consequence of DOE's demonstrated expertise in handling projects of this size and scope, and of the commitment of the Office of Health and Environmental Research (OHER) to evaluating the health effects of energy-related agents and to utilizing DOE resources for beneficial applications in biology and medicine. A basic understanding of the effects of damage to the genome was seen as a vital contribution to this mission.

Subsequent reports from the National Academy of Sciences and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment supported the HERAC report by endorsing a major national effort at a sustained level of $200 million annually. The initiative was seen as having substantive long-term impacts on basic science and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, as well as on the practice of medicine.

The long-range goal of this dedicated research is to develop and provide the broad array of resources and technologies that will allow the complete characterization of the human genome at the molecular level.

The near-term objectives of the initiative, which received program status in 1987, are to:

  • produce libraries of linearly ordered DNA fragments specific for each human chromosome,
  • improve significantly the efficiency of sequencing DNA, and
  • upgrade the computer capabilities needed to organize, disseminate, and interpret the sequence of the human genome.

Research and development in each of these areas is progressing in DOE national laboratories, universities, and the private sector at an FY89 support level of $17.5 million.

The ordered chromosome-specific DNA fragments currently being produced will someday be decoded into a reference human genome sequence of 3.5 billion base pair subunits. Such sequence information will greatly advance our understanding of gene function, especially in the area of genetic diseases and as a basis for determining individual sensitivity to radiation and environmental chemicals. However, the inclusion of an intensive sequencing effort in this program must await a significant improvement in the cost effectiveness of DNA sequencing technologies.

The two most active federal agencies in this area of research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and DOE, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate cooperation and coordination of genome research and development and to establish a joint advisory committee to coordinate these activities. The memorandum also establishes an interagency working group in which staff members of NIH and DOE meet regularly to discuss research of mutual interest, as well as agency priorities. In October 1988, DOE established a Human Genome Steering Committee, composed of key DOE-supported scientists, to help coordinate the Department's multidisciplinary genome research and development activities.

Submitted by Dr. Benjamin J. Barnhart
DOE Human Genome Program Manager

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The electronic form of the newsletter may be cited in the following style:
Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v1n1).

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.