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Episode 1

Episode 1 of 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 23 June 2010

In a new four part series, evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins decodes the discoveries and mysteries surrounding the genome.

Ten years ago this June, an international army of scientists announced that they had succeeded in completing their first draft of the genetic book of human life.

They had read most of the three billion genetic letters of the DNA instruction manual which resides in our chromosomes. It was an achievement worthy of an international press conference with President Bill Clinton in the White House.

The Human Genome Project involved thousands of scientists in many different countries, cost hundreds of millions of pounds and took more than ten years. It was the first big science project for biology.

But what have been the benefits and advances a decade on?

The human genome sequence has led researchers to discover hundreds of genes implicated in our risk of common ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and schizophrenia. Before the sequence they knew of only a handful. Other discoveries are providing clues to novel therapies to treat inherited diseases which are currently incurable.

Extraordinary advances in genome sequencing technology are accelerating the medical progress. Your genome could now be fully sequenced in just three weeks for less than £10 000. It will not be long before it will cost no more than a hospital scan. A full genomic screen may become part of our routine health care within the next ten years.

In spite of the advances, there have been some surprises and deepened mysteries. One of the greatest shocks was the finding that we have far fewer genes than scientists had assumed before they read out our genetic instructions. It takes no more genes to make a person than it does to make a simple microscopic worm. What makes a man different from a worm lies more in what researchers now calling the Dark Matter of the genome - 300 million letters of genetic code which work in currently mysterious ways.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

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