University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

The Human Genome Project

In 1988 a consortium of US scientists persuaded Congress to fund a project to find out the exact structure of the entire DNA in a human cell: to sequence the human genome. Initially, $3 000 000 000 was allocated.  The Human Genome Project (HGP) as it is known has been described as “biology’s moonshot” and has taken 13-years. The work started in 1990 and was originally planned to last for 15 years, but because scientists developed improved techniques for sequencing the genes, it was actually completed in 2003. The aims of the project were to:

  • identify all the genes in human DNA, (there are approximately 20,000-25,000)
  • determine the sequences of the A, T, C, and G base pairs that make up human DNA, (there are approximately 3 billion)
  • store this information in databases,
  • improve tools for data analysis,
  • transfer related technologies to the private sector, and
  • address the ethical, legal, and social issues that may arise from the project.

To help with these aims, the genetic makeup of several nonhuman organisms, such as the common human gut bacterium Escherichia coli, a nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the laboratory mouse were also sequenced.


  • Why do you think the HGP was known as Biology’s moonshot?
  • 5% of the total funding for the HGP was allocated to the sixth aim above: addressing the ethical, legal and social issues. Do you think this is reasonable proportion?

 History of the Human Genome Project

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