In genomics, the end of the beginning?

At the very least, the Human Genome Project was a technical and scientific challenge; it’s no simple matter to sequence 3 billion pairs of DNA, as the project’s public consortium set out to do in 1990. But the solution to the puzzle was in many ways not a technical one, Robert L. Nussbaum, M.D., said in a visit to the medical school in January. “It became very clear early on that this project was never going to work unless everyone did just a few things over and over again, really, really well,” said Nussbaum, chief of the genetic disease research branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “It was the introduction of management and organizational techniques from outside of science that probably made the biggest difference.” Nussbaum said a debate is now brewing within the institute on whether to declare the project over next April, an even 50 years after Watson and Crick’s description of the double-helix structure of DNA, by which time it is believed the final sequence will be assembled. “Should we declare it complete in 2003 and pack up and go home? Some say yes,” he said. “The others take the more Churchillian view that this is neither the end, nor the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning—that we have now launched a whole new field called genomic science, and let’s get started.”


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