April 14, 2003: The Human Genome Project is completed
The field of genetics has advanced by leaps and bounds since the turn of the millennium. From understanding the basic structure of DNA and how genes are passed on to learning the language of our bodily code, we’ve crossed into new frontiers that Rosalind Franklin could have only dreamed of.
The story of you
Our genes are all defined by a surprisingly basic set of letters. Deoxyribonucleic Acid or DNA is a twisting ladder made up of pairs of four base nucleotides: Adenine, cytosine, thymine, and guanine. The entire story of who you are is written using only the letters A, C, T, and G. These nucleotides come together like letters within words to form genes. The genes, like words in a sentence, write out a story.
Every human shares a majority of their DNA with all the other people on the planet. In fact, most living organisms share a surprising amount of DNA. Despite millions of tiny differences, all people are 99.9% the same on the genetic level. For comparison, we share 99% of our genetic code with chimpanzees, our closest primate relatives. Mice share some 92% of our genes, which is why they’re so often used in laboratory experiments.
Mapping our genome
Our genome is the complete collection of DNA in our bodies. When the Human Genome Project set out to map it all in 1990, it was a monumental undertaking. Every person is home to over 3 billion DNA base pairs. Cataloging each and every one of them required over a decade of meticulous work by countless minds. The end result was a massive mosaic including the 99.9% of shared DNA and a collection of 0.1% differences across our species. As of April 14, 2003, geneticists have a road map to the human body’s 20,500 genes, making the development of treatments and the study of illnesses easier than ever before.