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Science

DNA

The Human Genome Project

DNA shown as a double twisted string with interlinking parts

Base pairs on a DNA molecule

The genetic information in an organism is called its genome. The Human Genome Project, or HGP for short, was started at the end of the last century. It was very ambitious and had several aims, including:

  • to work out the order or sequence of all the three billion base pairsbase pairs: The pairs of nitrogenous bases that connect the complementary strands of DNA. in the human genome
  • to identify all the genesgenes: The basic units of genetic material inherited from our parents. A gene is a section of DNA which controls part of a cell's chemistry - particularly protein production.
  • to develop faster methods for sequencing DNA [DNA: The material inside the nucleus of cells, carrying genetic information. DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid. ]

The sequencing project was finished in 2001, and work continues to identify all the genes in the human genome. The HGP used the DNA of several people to get a sort of average sequence, but each person has a unique sequence (unless they have an identical twin).

Forensic science

Watch

You may wish to view this BBC News item from 2006 about how scientists are unlocking the DNA code of extinct mammoths.

Information about a person's DNA can be useful for forensic science. Genetic fingerprinting was invented in 1985 by Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester. It uses some of the small differences between the DNA from different people to make a picture rather like a barcode. If enough parts of the DNA are tested, it is very unlikely that two identical DNA fingerprints would belong to two different people. This makes the method very useful for matching samples found at the scene of a crime to people suspected of committing the crime.

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