Term Paper: Human Genome, Stem Cells

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[. . .] It may even dictate whether an organism is human or another species, each having their own genome. Research at the HGB has so far revealed that there are approximately 31,000 genes (the basic units of heredity) in the nucleus of a human cell. It has also been determined that these genes are located on 23 pairs of chromosomes, which are the structures containing the genes in the nucleus of the cell.

Methodology: Mapping and Sequencing & Bio-informatics

Identifying all the approx 30,000 genes in the human DNA and determining the specific distance of the genes from one another on a chromosome is done through a technique known as mapping. State-of-the-art physical mapping techniques combine the use of robotics, lasers, and computers to measure the distance between genetic markers.

The genes in each person's genome have a unique DNA sequence but the average variation in two different persons is very small -- 0.05 to 0.1%. Accurate determination of the sequence is, therefore, critical for variations in DNA sequence can have a major impact on how humans respond to disease, bacteria, viruses, drugs and therapies. The current sequencing technologies, although a big improvement over the techniques used at the start of the HGP, needs a 2 or 3-fold improvement to achieve the required goals. It is one of the challenges facing the scientists at the Project and a lot of effort is being put into the sequencing technology research.

Informatics is the creation, development, and operation of databases and other computing tools to collect, organize, and interpret data. It is a new field of research developed to handle the computing challenges peculiar to the HGP. Expanded databases and special analytical software tools for studying and making sense of the enormous amount of complex sequencing data are being developed.

The Size of a Genome

Although the physical size of genome is extremely small, the amount of data contained by them is mind-boggling. For example, 200 volumes of 1000-page books would be required to hold the DNA sequence of the human genome and it would take about 9.5 years to read out the 3 billion bases in a person's genome sequence.

Ethics of Genome Research

There are several important ethical, legal, and social implications issues related to genome research. Realizing the importance of the issue, research on the implications has been made an essential part of the Human Genome Project. Some of issues identified so far include:

Fairness in the use of genetic information by insurers, employers, schools, adoption agencies etc.

Privacy of genetic information: Who should access to personal genetic information?

Psychological impact on individuals due to genetic differences: stigmatization in society.

Reproductive issues, rights and informed consent.

Ways in which genetic information could affect the minorities.

Capabilities, risks and limitations of the technology: scientific and social risks vs. long-term benefits.

Reparations

Reparation usually refers to the payments sought by the victors from the vanquished to compensate for the damages caused during a war. The definition has been expanded somewhat in recent times to include the compensation sought by individuals or communities for past injustices, exploitation, or injuries perpetrated by a government or a group of people. The Webster dictionary defines reparation as, "making amends or giving satisfaction for a wrong doing or injury."

The term "reparations" was first used by the then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson after the First World War. The new term was coined to avoid the negative connotations of the alternate word in use until that time -- indemnity. Reparation was sought from the Germans by the Allied powers through the armistice treaty of 1918 in which a war-guilt clause was added [to justify reparations] that held Germany as solely responsible for the War. This was to cause immense national resentment and bitterness in Germany and may well have been responsible (at least partially) of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. The treaty required an initial payment of 20 billion gold marks ($5 billion) and a Reparations Commission made a total assessment of 132 billion gold marks ($33 billion) which the Germans were forced to accept. The payments were also one of the causes of hyperinflation in Germany, although other factors also contributed.

Reparations after World War II

Germany's defeat in World War II again led to the Allies imposing reparations on the country. Even before the end of the War, it was agreed among them that reparations totaling $20 billion would be extracted from the factories and capital plant of the enemy. The understanding was that the occupying forces would take three-fourths of the amount from the respective German zone each was to administer. The remaining amount was to arranged through transfers among zones, but the arrangement led to bitter wrangling between the Americans and British on the one side and the Russians on the other. The reparation settlement finally broke down and Germany was partitioned. The Russians extracted their part of the reparations from East Germany, while West Germany made some payments to the former Allies until the Marshall Plan replaced reparations. West Germany, after 1949, recognized some of its obligations of reparations and paid more than $700 million to Israel as compensation for the Nazi persecution of Jews. Japan also paid about $1 billion in reparations after the War.

Reparations Movement by African-Americans

There is a widespread feeling among the African-Americans in general and Black activists in particular that the United States government and the successors of companies that benefited from black slave labor owe payments as well as punitive damages to them for the abuse suffered by their ancestors. Richard America, a Professor at Georgetown University, puts the figure at between 5 to 10 trillion dollars.

Attorneys for a former law student who discovered links between several U.S. corporations to slave labor filed a suit in May 2002 for an unspecified amount (but which could run into billions of dollars). Some of the companies named in the lawsuit included FleetBoston Financial, the railroad firm CSX and the Aetna insurance company. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 35 million African-Americans and accused the corporations of "benefiting from stealing people, from stealing labor, from forced breeding, from torture, from committing numerous horrendous acts" and went on to say, "there's no reason why they should be able to hold onto assets they acquired through such horrendous acts." The lawsuit alleges that Aetna's corporate predecessor insured slave owners against "the loss of their human chattel" and notes that FleetBoston is a successor to Providence Bank, which it says was founded by Rhode Island slave trader John Brown.

Reparations for Native Americans similar issue to the one of Reparations for the African-Americans is the issue of reparations for the Native Americans (American Indians). The main difference is that while the African-Americans were wronged by being forced into slave labor, the Native Americans' were forced to give up their land. Hence many advocates for reparations to the Native Americans argue that they are even more deserving of compensation. The present day value of the land taken away from the original inhabitants of North America would of course be astronomical. Others point to the 'reservation' lands that were provided to the American Indian tribes in the 19th century and believe that they were compensated.

Ethics of Reparations

The original concept of reparations was restricted to the compensation sought from the defeated by the victors for the damages incurred during a war. Nowadays, however, reparation also includes the compensation sought for past wrongs or injury caused. It is a highly controversial question with arguments both for and against. The morality of the issue raises questions such as can the victors be fair judges in deciding about reparations from the defeated? Who deserves to be compensated? The victims of the holocaust? The descendents of slaves? The Native Americans? The Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during WWII? Should there be a time limit on the event against which the victims are to be compensated? It is also very difficult to put a monetary value on the amount of compensation. All of these are difficult questions to answer and pose a dilemma that is not likely to be resolved soon.

From CNN's Stem Cell Research Special available online at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/stemcell/

Genome FAQs from the Human Genome Project web site [available online] at http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/faq/faqs1.html

Summarized from the U.S. dept of Energy's Human Genome Project web site [available online] at http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/

From Article on Human Genome Project by Kenneth H. Fasman in Encyclopedia Encarta, 2002

Information gathered from article on Human Genome Project in Encyclopedia Encarta, 2002

Genome FAQs from the Human Genome Project web site [available online] at http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/faq/faqs1.html

From Article on Reparations by Charles S. Maier, Encyclopedia Encarta, 2002

James Harper. "About Reparations." [available online] at http://www.blackvoices.com/feature/reparations/trial/

Peter Viles. "Suit Seeks Billions in Slave Reparations." [Available online] at http://www.cnn.com/2002/LAW/03/26/slavery.reparations/index.html

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