My genes, my destiny?
Who am I? Why am I here? What makes me human?
These fundamental questions about our existence and sense of self
have dominated philosophical debate for hundreds of years. Modern
science is beginning to unravel some of the answers - opening up
further conundrums and surprises along the way.
On Monday 26 June 2000, science took a giant
step towards understanding what makes us who we are when the
Human Genome Consortium announced that 90 per cent of the human
genome - the 'working draft' - had been sequenced. The entire
sequence was placed in public databases on the internet so that
researchers could start mining it for information about what makes
us tick. The Wellcome Trust
Sanger Institute, the only British organisation involved,
carried out nearly one-third of the work, making it the largest
single contributor to the international project.
The era of genomics - the detailed study
of genomes - was underway. By identifying specific genes that
code for particular physical traits or 'phenotypes', scientists can
start to address some of our questions about ourselves. To what
extent we are a product of inescapable genetic influences, for
example? What roles do our upbringing and lifestyle choices play in
forming our identities? How much choice do we really have when it
comes down to who we are? Or is it all done for us by biology
and/or the unique set of family and social circumstances each of us
is born into?