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Summary of Cracking the Code of Life

More than a decade has passed since the scientists of the Human Genome Project and Celera Genomics finally cracked the code of life, the human genome. The publicly-funded Human Genome Project began in 1990, and the scientists worked in close cooperation with many US and international universities. In 1998, the private-held corporation Celera Genomics also started working on deciphering three billion letters of the human genome. Eventually, the  received data were made public because all countries should share their knowledge to bring the maximum benefit to humanity. Although genome sequencing plays an extremely important role in modern medicine, it has both advantages and disadvantages that are explained in detail by the documentary Cracking the Code of Life .

The sequence of the human genome is crucial to medicine because this knowledge allows scientists to identify the causes of many human diseases and ways to cure them. The documentary illustrates many stories; for example, it shows the family predisposed to Tay-Sachs disease, the genetic condition caused by defective genes. Alison and Tim Lord are parents of Hayden who was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease when he was six months old. The boy inherited this disease from both his parents. As a rule, children ill with Tay-Sachs disease do not live longer than four years old. Moreover, Tim Lord has twin brother Charlie. Charlie and his wife Blyth are also carriers of defective genes. Therefore, their daughter Cameron inherited Tay-Sachs disease as well. At the end of their story, the Lords said that it was an “incredibly bad roll of the genetic dice” for them (Arledge).

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It is obvious that the human genome should be thoroughly studied in order to know what genes are responsible for certain diseases to be able to diagnose them early. A vivid example of the advantage of knowing genetic mechanisms is the discovery that the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are responsible for mutations leading to breast and ovarian cancers that attack many women throughout the world. An early diagnosis of cancer increases chances of successful recovery. However, the awareness of a possibility to develop a certain disease enables doctors to  prevent it. For example, in order to protect themselves from ovarian and breast cancers, women can choose to remove their breasts and ovaries. In Iceland, there is a high level of genetic mutations because the population is very small and not mixed with other nations. The Icelandic people are descendants of the Vikings who came to the island ten centuries ago, and whose names are stored on a national database that can be accessed by everyone who wants to trace his or her roots. Currently, Iceland gives scientists access to all its genetic databases in order to prevent possible diseases. The Icelandic company deCode systematically works with the healthcare industry to diagnose, treat, and prevent different diseases. One of the main directions of the company is the research into the causes of osteoarthritis. Overall, the study of the human genome has led to useful discoveries that allow doctors to prevent and successfully treat many diseases.

Yet there are some people who say that the study of the human genome has many disadvantages. They claim that it is very dangerous to give access to such personal information to third parties. Moreover, having genetic mutations is not an ironclad guarantee that the disease will develop. For example, all European and American women have a 10% risk of developing breast cancer; however, not all of them have it later in life. Similarly, BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations increase the risk of developing cancer to 80%, yet not all mutation carriers get cancer. Therefore, some people do not want to undergo a medical examination and learn about their defective genes beforehand. In the documentary, two sisters, Melanie and Lisa Seagal, were diagnosed with ovarian and breast cancer. The third sister Lorie was lucky and did not develop cancer. Melanie fought against ovarian cancer for four years and lost a battle. Lisa won a battle twice and tries to persuade her daughter Alana to undergo a medical examination; however, the girl refuses to do it. Nowadays, many young people prefer not to know about their mutant genes in order not worry and lead a normal life. After all, there is a big difference between ‘you will get sick’ and ‘you may get sick.’ Therefore, Alana’s refusal to undergo medical tests can be easily understood. The girl desires to be happy and deal with a problem only when it arises. Alana does not want to be burdened with this information and worry that one day she may develop cancer.

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In conclusion, the Human Genome Project is very important as it brings many benefits to people. As a rule, genetic mutations are responsible for many terrible illnesses that are difficult to cure. Therefore, the correct genome sequencing, information on gene mutations, and availability of this knowledge are vital because they allow doctors to develop new cures and preventive measures. However, as many things in the world, the human genome sequencing has both advantages and disadvantages. Whereas new information on defective genes helps scientists to develop new drugs and methods of treating serious diseases, some individuals prefer not to undergo a medical examination to lead happy and peaceful lives. All human beings should choose for themselves whether to use the available information or not.