Two Decades Beyond The First Full Map Of Human DNA

28:13 minutes

an illustration of a double helix dna in purple and orange. in the background are dna sequence bars
Credit: Shutterstock/designed by Lauren Young

In February 2001, the international group of scientists striving to sequence the human genome in its entirety hit a milestone: a draft of the complete sequence was published in the journals Nature and Science

The project took 13 years to complete: In that time, genome sequencing became faster and cheaper, and computational biology ascended as a discipline. It laid the groundwork for the greater cooperation and open data practices that have made rapid vaccine development possible during the pandemic. In the decades since, researchers have been trying to better understand how genetics impact health. We’re still working toward the dream of personalized treatments based on a person’s specific genetic risks.  

Ira looks back at the successes and challenges of the Human Genome Project with Shirley Tilghman, a molecular biologist who helped plan the project, and served on its advisory committee.

Then, with bioinformatician Dina Zielinski and Indigenous geneticist-bioethicist Krystal Tsosie, he looks to the contemporary hurdles for genetic research, including privacy, commercialization, and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples over their own genetic data. 

Further Reading

Donate To Science Friday

Invest in quality science journalism by making a donation to Science Friday.


Segment Guests

Shirley Tilghman

Shirley Tilghman is a molecular biologist. She’s the former president of Princeton University, and a former member of the National Advisory Council for the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health.

Krystal Tsosie

Krystal Tsosie is an indigenous geneticist-bioethicist, a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University, and co-founder of the Native BioData Consortium in Phoenix, Arizona.

Dina Zielinski

Dina Zielinski is a bionfomatician in the Paris Transplant Group, lead scientist at Cibiltech, and a PhD candidate in bioinformatics at Sorbonne University in Paris, France.

Segment Transcript

The transcript for this segment is being processed. It will be posted within one week after the episode airs.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Christie Taylor

Christie Taylor is a producer for Science Friday. Her day involves diligent research, too many phone calls for an introvert, and asking scientists if they have any audio of that narwhal heartbeat.

About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

Explore More