The Human Genome Project was an international scientific research project with the goal of determining the entire sequence of chemical base pairs (represented by the letters A, G, C, and T) that make up human DNA. Many scientists believed at the time that genetic predisposition was the heart and soul of human disease, and thus the key to understanding how to cure many of them. By unraveling and decoding the human genome, we’d solve at least some of humanity’s largest health woes.
The moonshot project continues to be a marvel of human ingenuity and certainly paved the way for others to come, most recently the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative to map out all of the neurons in the human brain. That we are a species that can read its own DNA could be described as something of a miracle, if only using such a word didn’t undermine the decade-plus of work by the brilliant minds behind it.
There’s only one problem.
After the completion of the project in 2003, scientists were dumbfounded by how rudimentary the human genome actually is. No one could have anticipated just how few genes it required to make up a human. In fact, some lesser animals have more genes than the roughly 23,000 that make us us. Our genetic complexity puts us in the same range as mice. Even the water flea has more genes than us. Humbling, to say the least.