Rapid progress in genome science and a glimpse into its potential applications have spurred observers to predict that biology will be the foremost science of the 21st century. Technology and resources generated by the Human Genome Project and other genomic research are already having a major impact on research across the life sciences. The potential for commercial development of genomic research presents U.S. industry with a wealth of opportunities, and sales of DNA-based products and technologies in the biotechnology industry are projected to exceed $45 billion by 2009 (Consulting Resources Corporation Newsletter, Spring 1999).
Some current and potential applications of genome research include molecular medicine, microbial genomics, risk assessment, bioarchaeology, anthropology, evolution, human migration, DNA forensics (identification), agriculture, livestock breeding, and bioprocessing.
Technology and resources promoted by the Human Genome Project have profound impacts on biomedical research especially in clinical medicine. Increasingly detailed genome maps have aided researchers seeking genes associated with dozens of genetic conditions, including myotonic dystrophy, fragile X syndrome, neurofibromatosis types 1 and 2, inherited colon cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and familial breast cancer. This will provoke a new era of molecular medicine characterized less by treating symptoms and more by looking to the most fundamental causes of disease. Rapid and more specific diagnostic tests will make possible earlier treatment of countless maladies. Medical researchers also will be able to devise novel therapeutic regimens based on new classes of drugs, immunotherapy techniques, avoidance of environmental conditions that may trigger disease, and possible augmentation or even replacement of defective genes through gene therapy. Besides, research on human evolution become easier and clearer when a full and detailed genome map have been created.
Understanding the human genome will have an enormous impact on the ability to assess risks posed to individuals by exposure to toxic agents. Scientists know that genetic differences make some people more susceptible and others more resistant to such agents. Human Genome Project technologies also can help to assess health damage and risks caused by radiation exposure, including low-dose exposures. Furthermore, damage and risks caused by exposure to mutagenic chemicals and cancer-causing toxins also can be assessed. Consequently, the likelihood of heritable mutations can be reduced.
Other benefits gained from the human genome project towards improvement of human life include:
- identify potential suspects whose DNA may match evidence left at crime scenes
- establish paternity and other family relationships
- detect bacteria and other organisms that may pollute air, water, soil, and food
- match organ donors with recipients in transplant programs
- determine pedigree for seed or livestock breeds
- understanding disease vulnerabilities and revealing drug targets
- environmental monitoring to detect pollutants
- protection from biological and chemical warfare