Human Genome Project, III

chernoff at cartan.berkeley.edu chernoff at cartan.berkeley.edu
Sat May 12 12:08:28 EST 1990


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I am posting this for my colleague Michael Syvanen of the University
of California at Davis, to whom any e-mail replies should be directed.
(SYVANENM at MIZAR.ucdavis.edu)
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Dear Colleague: 
 
	Please help us keep the Human Genome Project out of the NIH.            

	No one takes seriously anymore the original claim that the human genome
project will not drain funds from the rest of biological science.  The human
genome project is not being funded with additional research appropriations; it
will come from money that would otherwise fund the rest of biological research. 
Biological research is being decimated.   
 
	There is some disagreement among responsible scientists about whether the
human genome project would be worth doing in the hypothetical case that it could
be funded in addition to normal science funding.  But there is an unusual degree
of consensus that the scientific knowledge gained by the monumental and routine
task of sequencing the human genome would in no way measure up to the scientific
knowledge which would be lost by the curtailment of the more diverse, inspired
and problem-oriented research.  Tragically, this is the mainstream biological
research that is currently losing its funding.  In fact, given the amount of 
money realistically available to biomedical research, there is general agreement
among responsible scientists that the very goals that the human genome initiative
claims - the curing of human disease - will be actually hurt, because more 
medically relevant and effective research programs will be unfunded. 
 
	We are facing an uprecedented crisis in American biological research 
funding.  Currently, in certain study sections only the top 12% of research 
grants are being funded by NIH.  In these cases, this 12% includes unprecedented
numbers of very high quality but previously rejected resubmissions; thus, we are
talking about an 88% rejection rate out of an increasingly high quality pool of
applicants. 
 
	Even more ominously, we are seeing the continuation of the weakening of
the peer review system.  Because our esteemed colleagues are balking at approving
human genome proposals which are scientifically inferior, there has been mounting
pressure to take an even larger fraction of the discretion away from our 
customary peer review panels, through the diversion of funds into specialized,
narrowly defined, peer review panels.  In this manner, the appearance but not
the substance, of peer review is maintained.
 
	The dismantling of American biological research is a disaster which 
threatens to hinder the goal of disease prevention and cure, and will be a 
setback to American scientific and technological development.        
 
	We suggest that this is the time to write your congressional 
representatives and senators urging them to resist placing the human genome
project in the NIH.  We have enclosed a possible letter which you may feel free
to use in whole or in part.  It might also be helpful to post this letter on a 
bulletin board with the names of your local representatives.  If you agree with
these efforts, we urge you to not only write, but to copy this material and to
pass it on to five or more others from different institutions and subspecialties
of biology; let us try to reach as many concerned scientists as we can. 
             
 
 
  						Sincerely,   
 
 
 
 
Chuck Turnbough					Michael Syvanen 
University of Alabama,				University of California, Davis 
Birmingham 
 
 
 
Cathy Squires                                   Ryland Young
Columbia University	                	Texas A & M University	 
 
 
 
Richard Calendar                                Marlene Belfort 
University of California, Berkeley              New York Public Health  
						 

 
 


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The Honorable John Doe 
U.S. House of Representatives      or    U.S. Senate 
Washington,  D.C.  20515                 Washington, D.C.  20510 
 
Dear Representative or Senator Doe: 
 
	A radical policy change is occurring in the National Institutes of Health. 
It is being implemented without proper debate, and is adversely affecting the
progress of medical research. Furthermore, it is reversing a policy that was 
established by Congress to ensure that each region of the country receive its
share of NIH funding. I am referring to the Human Genome Project, which is, as
you are probably aware, an effort to sequence the entire human genome.  I 
strongly urge you to keep this project out of the N.I.H. 

	 Although sequencing the entire human genome is certainly harmless in 
itself, it is far less important than other ongoing and potential new lines of
research.  Since new funds are not being appropriated for the human genome 
project and this money is currently being derived from existing programs, the
project will actually impede medical research.  The problem is not really too
technical to explain to the non-scientist. 
 
	Somewhere between 95 and 98% of the human genome consists of what
biologists commonly call "junk" DNA.  This is DNA which does not transmit
information to the cell, and which most likely serves no function at all. 
Genetic defects related to disease are, of course, found in about 2% of the human
genome which contains functional genes.  Most genes involved in disease can be
located and sequenced without sequencing the entire genome -- in fact, this is
already being done, and does not require an "initiative" or a massive diversion
of funds.  More importantly, locating and sequencing genes involved in disease
does not automatically lead to a cure for disease.  For example, the location
and sequence of the sickle cell anemia gene has been known for over 20 years,
and no cure has been developed.  In order to cure disease, all aspects of the
structure and function of the genome, the cell and the organism must be 
understood. It is not enough to know the sequence of the gene.  And as funds are
being diverted from other avenues of inquiry in order to sequence the mostly 
irrelevant DNA sequences of the entire human genome, the conquest of disease and
other important technological advances will be hindered. 
 
	The diversion of funds to the human genome project, and hence away from
the broader biological research projects, has additional undesirable national
policy implications.  First, the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that
have been invested in training today's scientists -- arguably the best in the
world -- will be wasted as productive, promising laboratories are unfunded. It
is important to point out that these scientists who are so important to our 
technological competiveness cannot merely redirect their research into the human
genome project.  The human genome project is a massive scientific assembly line
which requires very few scientifically trained minds and an army of specialized
technicians.  It cannot make use of a fraction of our country's investment in
highly trained and talented scientists.  Secondly, the human genome project, by

its nature, involves unimaginative, repetitive and routine tasks.  If we can't
offer our brightest, most creative young minds the promise that they will be able
to engage in challenging, innovative research, they will simply leave science.

	Third, the human genome project is threatening to change the American 
system of support for biomedical research.  Sequencing the human genome will tend
to concentrate research in large laboratories in a small number of elite 
locations. The concentration of funds in a small number of centers will be a 
setback to developing a geographically broad-based high technology economy, and
will have a long-term negative impact on regional and local economic development.
 
	There is some disagreement among responsible scientists about whether the
human genome project would be worth doing in the hypothetical case that it could
be funded in addition to normal science funding. But there is an unusual degree
of consensus that the scientific knowledge gained by the monumental and routine
task of sequencing the human genome would not measure up to the amount of
scientific and medical knowledge which will be lost by the curtailment of the
more diverse, inspired and problem-oriented medical research. In fact, given
the amount of money realistically available to biomedical research, there is an
unusual consensus among responsible scientists that the very goals that the human
genome initiative purports to attain - the curing of human disease - will be
actually hurt because more medically relevant and effective research programs
will be unfunded.  We, the silent majority of the scientific community, urge you
to help us keep the human genome initiative out of the NIH.
 
	    
					Sincerely, 







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          Mike Syvanen   (SYVANENM at MIZAR.ucdavis.edu)

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