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HEALTH REPORT - Human Genome Project Completed - 2003-04-23

Broadcast: April 23, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Scientists are finished with the Human Genome Project. Mapping the position of every human gene is a major step in the history of science.

Last week, officials announced the completion of the effort to identify all the chemical pieces in D-N-A. That is the genetic material that shapes life.

The work involved scientists at sixteen research centers around the world. They finished in time for the fiftieth anniversary this month of another important discovery -- how D-N-A is structured. D-N-A is deoxyribonucleic acid.

The project had been expected to take two more years. It began in nineteen-ninety.

The human genome is a map of our genetic structure. This structure is built from more than three-thousand-million chemical pieces linked together. The pieces are organized into genes, an estimated thirty-thousand of them.

This chain decides such things as physical appearance -- like hair color, eye color and height -- but also much more. Genes can make a person more or less likely than others to suffer diseases such as diabetes or some kinds of cancer.

This genetic map will guide scientists as they study the mysteries of health and disease. Scientists hope to speed up progress to develop genetic treatments. These new treatments could fight some diseases on the level of cells and genes.

Three years ago, a ceremony took place at the White House to announce what was called a "working draft" of the human genome. But at that time the project was only eighty-five percent complete.

Today, scientists have filled in most of the information that was missing three years ago. They have also put the parts of the genome in order.

Scientists say that about one percent of the map is impossible to finish until they develop new technologies. They consider the parts that are still missing to be of little importance. Yet some scientists say they would have liked to see these parts done before officials declared the end of the project.

Other scientists are already using the genome. One such project is to make a map of common genetic changes. The goal is to show genes linked to diseases like asthma, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.