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Image credit: Russ London

Ten years ago today scientists published the first draft of the Human Genome Project, which aimed to sequence the DNA shared by humans.

This picture is a printout of the human genome in a series of books in London. The 3.4 billion units of DNA code are in more than a hundred volumes, each a thousand pages, in type so small it’s hardly legible. That’s some good reading.

The human genome project was pretty exciting science, hell it still is. A few years ago they thought it would revolutionise medicine, cure cancer, save the world.

It hasn’t been that simple. After all, the amount of DNA we have in common with apes and fruit flies is pretty astounding, knowing the code is not enough. The way the code is read is also crucial, and we don’t understand that very well.

One thing that always interested me was epigenetics, which are non-DNA-coded inherited traits which are passed on through generations. For example how DNA is packaged in the cell determines which parts of the code are read and which are ignored. A heart cell has the same DNA as a hair follicle, but because of epigenetics we don’t have hairy hearts, or hearty heads.

Part of what the human genome project revealed was how little we know about DNA, and how many mysteries are still wrapped up inside us. Nonetheless it was one of the most important projects in human scientific history, and to that let us drink rum!