Genetics is the study of biological heredity and variance. In simpler terms, it's the study of how
genes are passed from parent to offspring, and how those genes create certain characteristics in an organism.
The modern age of genetics began in the early 1800s when Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) suggested that animals
passed on acquired traits. This means that Lamarck
believed that a baby giraffe's neck was long because its parents stretched their necks as they tried to graze on the leaves of tall trees. However, we now know his hypothesis was false. For example, if a man loses his right leg in a car accident, we don't expect his child to be born missing a right leg.
In the mid-1800s, Sir Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Wallace (1823-1913) suggested that an organism inherited some type of biological factor from its parents. At the time, Darwin didn't know what this "factor" was, but we now know it to be the chromosome. Darwin's book,On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), was a milestone in science.
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), an Austrian monk, studied peas in his garden. He found that when he crossed smooth peas with wrinkled peas, they'd always give rise to smooth peas. If he crossed these second-generation
smooth peas with each other or with wrinkled peas, he'd get some smooth peas and some wrinkled peas. However, if he crossed wrinkled peas with other wrinkled peas, he'd get only wrinkled peas. He published his findings in 1865, but unfortunately nobody paid much attention to his reports.
In the early 20th century, scientists investigating chromosome function rediscovered Mendel's work, and Mendelian genetics was born. Modern biology has since grown by leaps and bounds as scientists strive to understand genetics and DNA by studying bacteria, viruses, mice, plants, and thousands of other organisms.
In 1988, a committee of
representatives from the National Institutes of Health and the
Department of Energy began to develop a five year plan to construct a
physical map of the human genome. In 1990 the Human Genome Project was born and has since grown to include France, Britain, Japan and other countries. It is now widely coordinated by the Human Genome Organization (HUGO). HUGO is a private organization exclusively devoted to coordinating worldwide genome mapping and sequencing and to fostering collaboration between researchers.
The Human Genome Project is an effort by scientists throughout the
world to map the entire human genome. So far, the scientists working on this project have made great strides toward achieving their goal. For instance, as a result of the project's research, scientists discovered the
mutations that give rise to cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia.
Human Genome Project work must be done with extraordinary precision, because it deals with humankind, the only species with which scientists cannot selectively breed and experiment with. Human genetics researchers must carefully collect huge quantities of data through indirect studies and analyze that data with intense scrutiny. Once the data is analyzed and scientists form a hypothesis, instead of running experiments to test that hypothesis (as they would in genetic studies of other species), scientists must collect yet more data to confirm the result. Thus, the Human Genome Project is an enormously painstaking undertaking requiring millions of hours of research. On top of all that, HGP researchers must contend with the thorny ethical issues surrounding human genetics research.
From the BioTech Project at http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/. Written mainly by Kris Marshall(?). Used with permission. For further information see the BioTech homenode.