The Human Genome Project is a corporate and US Government project aimed at fully sequencing the full sequence of all human chromosomes. This project should be completed by 2004 at which time much more effort will go into understanding how those genes identified through computer-based search of the genome actually function.

What does the Human Genome Project have to offer us in terms of health and disease?

The effects of the Human Genome Project could be far-reaching, affecting disciplines as diverse as molecular medicine, microbial genomics, bioarchaeology, anthropology, the study of evolution and human migration, DNA forensics as a form of identification, agriculture, livestock breeding, and bioprocessing.

The Human Genome Project could be used to identify people who are at risk from certain diseases which can be appropriately dealt with before the disease ever develops. For instance, a woman at high risk for breast cancer may be instructed to undergo regular mammography at an earlier age than is recommended for the general population. She may be asked to modify her diet and undergo treatment with a new selective oestrogen receptor modulator (SERM) for breast cancer prevention. The emphasis of health care in the future will be on detecting risk for disease and developing strategies for disease prevention.

The Human Genome Project could have an enormous effect on drug therapy. For example, in the future it may be possible to readily identify patients who rapidly metabolise a drug so that a higher dose of the drug can be used. On the other hand, a person who metabolises a drug slowly or not at all will not be given the drug. At present, pharmacological approaches block tissue receptors or inhibit specific enzymes; in the future, specific genes could be turned either on or off.

There are also potential disadvantages, deriving from the fact that our predispositions to diseases will be known. If insurance companies are to be allowed genetic information then we risk creating a genetic underclass to which the cost of living will be much higher, even if they never develop the diseases that they are statistically more likely to be afflicted with. This is being countered in three stipulations that will probably become law after the completion of the Human Genome Project.

  • There must be equal access to genetic information and its applications.
  • Confidentiality is imperative.
  • The right to refuse genetic testing and the right to refuse to act on the information it reveals must be honoured.

    It is likely, however that the Human Genome Project will improve our lives. Genetic mutations will no longer be regarded simply as defects but will be used to understand the etiology of disease at the most basic level. Genetics might be incorporated into our lifestyle choices and cloning, a current controversy, may solve the shortage of organs for transplantation.

  • In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (SMAC), the Human Genome Project is a Secret Project. It may be built at a cost of 180 minerals, on discovery of Biogenetics (D1), and provides one additional Talent at each of your bases. While it's a pretty good buy, the Human Genome Project is somewhat superfluous at lower difficulty levels, and likely to be built by a rival faction before you can afford it at higher difficulties.

    How useful is this? In simplified terms, base population is simulated as a number of Citizens; by default, these Citizens are Workers. At some population level determined by the game difficulty setting, new citizens will be Drones. They tend to riot, halting base production (at best). To prevent a Drone Riot condition in a given base, there must be at least one Talent per Drone. Each 2 energy units allocated to Psych makes one Worker into a Talent, but that's energy diverted from income and research. So the Human Genome Project is like two free energy units, per turn, per base in your faction.

    It seems fitting to me that the opening turns of a science fiction game should recapitulate our actual cutting-edge technological achievements; SMAC has a strong theme of ecology and human potential, and the Human Genome Project works well as a Secret Project in that context.

    Secret Project animation narrative:
    "To map the very stuff of life; to look into the genetic mirror and watch a million generations march past. That, friends, is both our curse and our proudest achievement. For it is in reaching to our beginnings that we begin to learn who we truly are."
       -- Academician Prokhor Zakharov,
       "Address to the Faculty"

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