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The human frontier

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WORLD Radio - The human frontier

Scientists finish mapping the human genome


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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, April 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the human genome.

Way back in the year 2000, June 27th, President Bill Clinton announced an exciting breakthrough:

CLINTON: We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. Without a doubt, this is the most important—the most wondrous—map ever produced by humankind.

At that time, researchers had discovered about 90 percent of the human genome. Few expected then that it would take more than 20 years to fill in the rest of the human DNA map.

REICHARD: A few weeks ago, an international team finally unveiled what they’re calling a “full human genetic blueprint.” Here’s WORLD’s Paul Butler with more on this amazing accomplishment.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Imagine buying a used 100-piece puzzle at a garage sale. It’s not in a box. Just pieces in a bag. As you dump them out and start putting it together—you realize you only have about 90 pieces. By this point, you can see most of the picture, but there’s still a lot of missing detail where those final pieces are supposed to go.

That’s what the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium faced in 2000. Only instead of a 100-piece puzzle, it was a 3.1 billion piece puzzle...

CLINTON: Today’s historic achievement is only a starting point. There’s much hard work yet to be done.

By 2004, researchers had done much of that hard work and successfully sequenced about 92 percent of the genome. Meaning that there were still 250 million missing pieces of information. Many from difficult to read genes with very long segments of repeating DNA.

TOMKINS: The past few years, the DNA sequencing technology has changed…

Jeffrey Tomkins has seen that technology change first-hand.

TOMKINS: …and they can actually now get through these very difficult or repetitive regions, and essentially close the gaps that they weren't able to get through before.

Tomkins earned a PhD in Genetics from Clemson University in the 1990s. He served as the director of the Institute there from 2002 to 2006. And today, he’s the director of research at the Institute for Creation Research.

TOMKINS: Well, as it turns out, when the human genome began to be sequenced, they realized there were many regions of the genome that they couldn't figure out essentially what it did.

Many scientists referred to these unintelligible fragments as “left overs” from the supposed evolutionary process—often referring to them as “junk DNA.”

Tony Jelsma leads the Biology Department at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

JELSMA: The term junk DNA is actually pretty controversial in the scientific literature...

In 2018 a team of scientists dissatisfied with the 92 percent benchmark of the previous genome project decided to start from scratch. Advances in technology meant it was finally possible to sequence the entire DNA roadmap. And not only did they begin to decode the missing pieces, they also found—and corrected—errors in the previous process.

A few weeks ago, on March 31st, the group announced that it had successfully sequenced an entire human genome. Professor Jelsma believes it’s a step forward, but it’s only the first of many:

JELSMA: I have to say that there is no such thing as the human genome because everyone's genome is different. And so the sequence they have came from that one particular specimen. It is helpful, but it's only a first step in understanding our biology but I think there's a lot more to understanding our biology than just knowing a gene sequence. The more we understand the human body, the more we realize how little we do understand.

Jelsma says that for the Christian, the scientific method is an opportunity to better understand our Creator.

JELSMA: What excites me a lot about science the most about science is not what I do know, is what I don't know. And I'm constantly learning new things, and to see how beautifully our bodies are put together, because that all reflects the power and wisdom of God and creation, and not just in our bodies, but elsewhere as well.

ICR’s Jeffrey Tomkins agrees. And he says the more we learn about DNA and the building blocks of life, the more we see the fingerprints of God—and that, he says, is a puzzle worth exploring:

TOMKINS: Every time they claim something is useless, and just evolutionary junk—once they actually get the real data in their hands, they change their minds and say, “Hey, this is really valuable.” And so to me, it just vindicates the fact that our genomes are created by a Creator who engineered them from end to end to be functional…you know, the more discoveries we see being reported by the genetics and the biomedical community, the more we see that that truth being realized.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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