Cracking the Code

Biomedical research has experienced a significant growth and has earned to be placed at the forefront of sciences overall.  The 20th century was coined the century of physics. It is expected that the 21st century will become the biomedical century.

The discovery of the sequencing of the human genome, which is the entire DNA in an organism including its genes, is a scientific landmark in human science. Mapping of the human body will change human nature and our entire view on life. One cannot avoid being awed at the tremendous amount of information contained in such a minute space. The DNA contains information allowing proteins to be manufactured, and the proteins control cell growth and function, which eventually are responsible for each organism.

This science is very complex and scientists are slowly deciphering it. In fact, scientists need to identify approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in the human DNA and determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA. Once this information is retrieved, it will be stored in giant databases.

In order to advance in this tremendously complex and ambitious endeavor, the creation of the international Human Genome Project (HGP) was launched in 1990 and its goal was to totally map and sequence all of the genetic material that makes us human. Although this project was completed in 2003, analyses of the data will take many years to complete. When this is accomplished, we will have a new and profoundly powerful tool to help us decipher the mysteries of how the human body grows and functions and may lead into discoveries of new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for a variety of human diseases.

One of the many concerns associated with the human genome project and genetic testing is discrimination and its potential abuse on account of genetics. In Judaism, it is certainly legitimate to use research and medical intervention, and indeed the human genome promises to be an invaluable means in this area. In fact, you can recognize the science of genes from the story of Jacob (Gen 30: 37-39). What Judaism discourages is interfering with God’s natural plan for no good reason. This topic is reflected in the Torah, which forbids the crossbreeding of plants and that of animal species (Deuteronomy 22:9-11) for the creation of original beings. Indeed, in the wrong hands, the disruption of the natural order could be very dangerous.

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