Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Dr. William Burger

Second Advisor

Dr. Lawrence Hlad

Third Advisor

Dr. Kenneth Perkins


In 1989, The National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with the United States Department of Energy, launched a three billion dollar project that could potentially change the way we view human life. The purpose of the project is to map every gene on every chromosome of the human DNA. The Human Genome Project, as it is referred to, is scheduled for completion by the year 2005. The frank reality of the Human Genome Project is that it will indeed offer some real and measurable benefit to different types of people, including some of those inflicted with fatal diseases and disorders; however, its social policy implications are even greater. Its potential effect on society as a whole and on the way we view human behavior is unpredictable.

The Human Genome Project seeks to understand human life at a molecular level by determining the function of each of the genes in the human genome, how they contribute to the vast array of human characteristics, and about the role they play in disease, development and behavior.

The project incorporates, and is a product of, the development of genetics since the turn of the century, and its social implications are strongly colored by the uses of genetics in the past. It could be argued that genetics is a science of human differences and much of the fear surrounding the project stems from exaggerations of the extent to which human behavior is genetic. Inquiry into behaviors such as criminality, intelligence, aggressiveness and homosexuality have been and continue to be the source of heated debate within and outside the scientific community.

It could be argued that the Human Genome Project is a more scientifically advanced form of biological determinism that lends scientific legitimacy to the belief that human behavior is inherited through the genes. The danger in this belief is that it reduces human life, and what it means to be human, to a mere biological function.

The information produced by the Human Genome Project will be vast and the potential for abuse even greater. The broad cultural appeal of genetic concepts needs to be kept in mind if we are to understand the social power of genetic information. Although the Human Genome Project is a medical miracle to the study of genetic disease, it is important that we exercise due caution in interpreting its results.

Included in

Biology Commons



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