Genetic researchers in China, Britain and the United States are teaming up to unravel the full genetic code of at least 1,000 people around the world – an unprecedented scientific project that could cost tens of millions of dollars and eventually reveal the roots of hundreds of diseases.
“The 1000 Genomes Project will examine the human genome at a level of detail that no one has done before,” Richard Durbin of Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who is the project consortium’s co chair, said in today’s announcement. “Such a project would have been unthinkable two years ago. Today, thanks to amazing strides in sequencing technology, bioinformatics and population genomics, it is now within our grasp.”
The project will build on the foundation created for HapMap, a similarly international gene-decoding effort. HapMap charted genetic differences between various geographical populations by looking at variations in “letters” of genetic code, known as single nucleotide polymorphism or SNPs. This time, researchers will analyze the full volume of human genetic information – which runs to a length of 3 billion letters, or roughly the entire English-language content of Wikipedia.
Using HapMap and other genetic databases, researchers already have identified about 100 regions of the genome that are associated with increased risk for diseases ranging from cancer and diabetes to cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease. But in order to track down exactly what goes wrong and how to fix it, researchers generally have to go through another circuitous round of genetic sequencing.