Nova (1974–…): Season 28, Episode 9 - Cracking the Code of Life - full transcript

The effort to decipher the 3-billion-letter human genome is one of the biggest stories in the history of science. In this collaborative production with WGBH's NOVA, host Robert Krulwich of ABC's Nightline follows the highly-publicized race between two teams-The Human Genome Project and Craig Venter's Celera-to accomplish this monumental deciphering, and then moves beyond that milestone to consider the profound medical and social implications it will bring.

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---
When I look at this...

And these are three billion
chemical letters,

instructions for a human being...
My eyes glaze over.

But when scientist Eric Lander
looks at this, he sees stories.

The genome is a storybook

that's been edited
for a couple billion years

and you could take it to bed

like A Thousand and One
Arabian Nights

and read a different story
in the genome every night.

This is the story

of one of the greatest
scientific adventures ever



and at the heart of it

is a small, very powerful
molecule, DNA.

For the past ten years,

scientists all over the world
have been painstakingly trying

to read the tiny instructions
buried inside our DNA.

And now, finally, the
human genome has been decoded.

We're at the moment
that scientists wait for.

This is what we wanted to do.

You know, we're now examining

and interpreting
the genetic code.

This is...

The ultimate imaginable thing
that one could do scientifically

is to go and look
at our own instruction book

and then try to figure out
what it's telling us.



And what it's telling us
is so surprising and so strange

and so unexpected.

50% of the genes in
a banana are in us?

How different are you

from a banana?

I feel...

And I feel I can say this
with some authority...

Very different from a banana.

You may feel different...

I eat a banana.

All the machinery
for replicating your DNA

all the machinery
for controlling the cell cycle

the cell surface,
for making, uh, nutrients...

All that's the same.

So, what does any
of this information

have to do with you or me?

Perhaps more than we
could possibly imagine.

Which one of us will get cancer
or arthritis or Alzheimer's?

Will there be cures?

Will parents in the future
be able to determine

their children's
genetic destinies?

We've opened a box here

that has got a huge amount
of valuable information.

It is the key

to understanding disease

and, in the long run,
to curing disease.

But having opened it,

we're also going to be
very uncomfortable

with that information
for some time to come.

Yes, some of the information
you are about to see

will make you
very uncomfortable.

On the other hand, some of it

I think you will find
amazing and hopeful.

I'm Robert Krulwich,

and tonight,
we will not only report

the latest discoveries
of the Human Genome Project

you will also meet the people

who made
those discoveries possible

and who competed furiously
to be first to be done.

And as you watch our program
on the human genome,

we will be raising
a number of issues:

genes and privacy,
genes and corporate profits,

genes and the odd similarity
between you and the yeast.

And we'd like to have your
thoughts on all these subjects,

so please, if you will,
log on to NOVA's Web site.

It'll be there
after the broadcast

so do it after the broadcast,
where you can take a survey.

The results will be
immediately available

and continually updated.

We'll be right back.

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To begin, let's go back four
and some billion years ago

to wherever it was

that the very first speck
of life appeared on Earth...

Maybe on the warm surface
of a bubble.

That speck did something

that has gone on
uninterrupted ever since.

It wrote a message...
It was a chemical message...

That it passed to its children,

which then passed it
on to its children

and to its children, and so on.

The message has passed
from the very first organism

all the way down through time
to you and me...

like a continuous thread
through all living things.

It's more elaborate now,
of course,

but that message, very simply,
is the secret of life.

And here is that message,

contained in this stunning
little constellation

of chemicals we call DNA.

You've seen it in this form,
the classic double helix,

but since we're going to be
spending a lot of time

talking about DNA, I wondered
what does it look like

when it's raw, you know,
in real life.

So I asked an expert.

I mean...
DNA has a reputation for being

such a mystical, highfalutin
sort of molecule...

All this information,
your future, your heredity.

It's actually goop.

So, this here's DNA.

Professor Eric Lander
is a geneticist

at MIT's Whitehead Institute.

It's very, very long strands
of molecules...

These double helices of DNA...

Which, when you get
them all together,

just look like
little threads of cotton.

And these strands were
literally pulled from cells...

Blood cells or maybe
skin cells... of a human being.

Whoever contributed this DNA,
you can tell from this

whether or not
they might be at early risk

for Alzheimer's disease.

You can tell whether or not
they might be at early risk

for breast cancer.

And there's probably about
2,000 other things you can tell

that we don't know how to tell
yet, but will be able to tell.

And it's really
incredibly unlikely

that you could tell all that
from this,

but that's DNA for you.

That apparently is
the secret of life

just hanging off there
on the tube.

And already DNA has told us
things that no one...

No one... had expected.

It turns out
that human beings have

only twice as many genes
as a fruit fly.

Now, how can that be?

We are such complex
and magnificent creatures

and fruit flies...
Well, they're fruit flies.

DNA also tells us

that we are more closely related
to worms and to yeast

than most of us
would ever have imagined.

But how do you read
what's inside a molecule?

Well, if it's DNA,

if you turn it so you can look
at it from just the right angle,

you will see in the middle what
look like steps in a ladder.

Each step is made up
of two chemicals...

Cytosine and guanine
or thymine and adenine.

They come always in pairs
called base pairs,

either C and G
or T and A for short.

This is, step by step, a code
three billion steps long...

The formula for a human being.

We're all familiar
with this thing.

This shape is very familiar...

Double helix.

Double helix.

First of all, I'm wondering...

this is my version
of a DNA molecule.

Is this, by the way,
what it looks like?

Well... give or take,
I mean, a cartoon version...

yeah, a little like that
or so, yeah.

So there are in every...
almost every cell
in your body,

if you look deep enough,

you will find this chain here.

Oh, yes, stuck in
the nucleus of your cell.

Now, how small is this?

In a real DNA molecule,

the distance between
the two walls is how wide?

Oh, golly...

Look at this...
he's asking for help.

This distance is about from...

this distance is
about ten angstroms...

That's one-billionth of a meter

when it's clumped up
in a very particular way.

Well, no, it's curled
up some like that,

but it's more than that.

You can't curl it up too much,

because these little
negatively charged things

will repel each other,
so you fold it on its...

I'm going to break
your molecule.

No, don't break my molecule...
Very valuable.

You got this, and then
it's folded up like this

and then those
are folded up
on top of each other

and so, in fact

if you were to stretch
out all of the DNA...

it would run, oh, I don't know,
thousands and thousands of feet.

Okay, the main thing about this

is the ladder...
The steps of this ladder.

If I knew it was A and T

and C and C and G and G and A...

No, no, it's not G and G,
it's G and C.

Whatever the rules are
of the grammar, yeah.

If I could read each
of the individual ladders,

I might find
the picture of what?

Well, of your children.

This is what you pass
to your children.

You know, people have
known for 2,000 years

that your kids look
a lot like you.

Well, it's because you
must pass them something...

Some instructions that give them

the eyes they have and
the hair color they have

and the nose shape they do.

The only way you pass it to them

is in these sentences,
that's it.

And to show you
the true power of this molecule,

we're going to start
with one atom deep inside

and we pull back and you see it
form its As and Ts and Cs and Gs

and the classic double spiral.

And then starts
the mysterious process

that creates a healthy new baby.

And the interesting thing
is that every human baby...

Every baby born... is 99.9%
identical in its genetic code

to every other baby.

So the tiniest differences
in our genes

can be hugely important...

Can contribute to differences
in height, physique,

maybe even talents, aptitudes...

And can also explain what can
break, what can make us sick.

Cracking the code of those
minuscule differences in DNA

that influence health
and illness

is what the Human Genome Project
is all about.

Since 1990, scientists
all over the world

in university
and government labs

have been involved
in a massive effort to read

all three billion As, Ts,
Gs and Cs of human DNA.

They predicted it would take
at least 15 years.

That was partly because in
the early days of the project

a scientist could spend years...
An entire career...

Trying to read just a handful
of letters in the human genome.

It took ten years to find

the one genetic mistake
that causes cystic fibrosis;

another ten years to find the
gene for Huntington's disease;

15 years to find
one of the genes

that increase the risk
for breast cancer...

one letter at a time...
painfully slowly...

One, two, three...

Frustratingly prone
to mistakes...

Cs in a row...

And false leads.

We asked Dr. Robert Waterston,
a pioneer in mapping DNA,

to show us the way
it used to be done.

The original ladders
for DNA sequence...

we actually read
by putting a little letter

next to the band
that we were culling

and then writing those down
on a piece of paper

or into the computer after that.

Uh, it's horrendous.

And we haven't mentioned
the hardest part.

This here,
magnified 50,000 times

is an actual clump
of DNA, chromosome 17.

Now, if you look inside,
you will find, of course,

hundreds of millions
of As and Cs and Ts and Gs.

But it turns out that
only about one percent of them

are active and important.

These are the genes that
scientists are searching for.

So, somewhere
in this dense chemical forest

are genes involved in deafness,
Alzheimer's, cancer, cataracts.

But where?

This is such a maze,
scientists need a map.

But at the old pace, that
would take close to forever.

A C, and then an A...

And then came the revolution.

In the last ten years,

the entire process
has been computerized.

That cost hundreds
of millions of dollars.

But now instead of decoding
only a few hundred letters

by hand in a day,

together these machines can do
a thousand every second,

and that has made
all the difference.

This is something that's going
to go in the textbooks.

Everybody knows that.

Everybody, when the genome
project was being born,

was consciously aware
of their role in history.

Getting the letters out
is... has been described

as "finding the blueprint
of a human being,"

"finding a manual
for a human being,"

"finding the code
of a human being."

What's your metaphor?

Oh, golly gee,
I mean, I... I...

you can have very
highfalutin metaphors

for this kind of stuff.

This is basically a parts list.

Right?

Blueprints and
all these fancy...

it's just a parts list.

It's a parts list
with a lot of parts.

If you take an airplane,
a Boeing 777...

Yeah.

I think it has,
like, 100,000 parts.

If I gave you a parts
list for the Boeing 777,

in one sense, you'd know a lot.

You'd know 100,000
components that have
got to be there...

Screws and wires and,
you know, rudders and
things like that.

On the other hand,

I bet you wouldn't know
how to put it together.

And I bet you wouldn't
know why it flies.

Well, we're in the same boat.

We now have a parts list.

That's what the Human
Genome Project is about

is getting the parts list.

If you want
to understand the plane,

you have to have the parts list,

but that's not enough
to understand why it flies.

But, of course, you'd be crazy

not to start
with the parts list.

And one reason it's so important
to understand all those parts...

To decode every letter of the
genome... is because sometimes,

out of three billion
base pairs in our DNA,

just one single letter
can make a difference.

Allison and Tim Lord are parents
of two-year-old Hayden.

Hi!

Hi, punkin.

The two things that I think of
the most about Hayden,

which a lot of people got from
him right from the beginning,

is that he was always,
I thought, very funny.

Make your very,
very serious face.

I love you!

I mean, he loved
to smile and laugh

and... and he... he
just used to guffaw.

I mean, this was later
when he was about a year old,

he just found the funniest
things hilarious.

And so he and I would
just crack each other up.

Peek-a-boo!

Hayden seemed to be
developing normally

for the first few months.

But Allison began to notice

that some things
were not quite right.

I was very anxious
all the time with Hayden.

I sensed that something
was not the same.

I would see my friends changing
the diaper of their child

who was around the same age,
their newborn,

and see the physical movement

and the legs moving
and things like that,

and Hayden didn't do that.

♪ Happy birthday to you... ♪

Doctors told them that Hayden

was just developing
a bit slowly,

but by the time
he turned a year old,

it was clear something
serious was wrong.

♪ Happy birthday to you. ♪

He never crawled,
he never talked,

he never ate with his fingers,

and he seemed to be going
backwards, not progressing.

I remember the last time
he laughed.

Yeah.

And I took a trip
with him out
to pick up a suit,

because we were going
to a wedding that night,

and we came back and
it was really windy,

and he just loves
to feel the wind,

and... and so we had
a great time.

We came back and I propped him
up right here on the couch

and I was sitting next to him,

and he just kind of threw
his head back and laughed

like, you know,
"What a fun trip," you know?

And that's the last time
he was able to laugh.

It's really hard.

Hi.

It turned out that Hayden
had Tay-Sachs disease,

a genetic condition that
slowly destroys a baby's brain.

What happens is the child
appears normal at birth,

and over the course
of the first year,

begins to miss
developmental milestones.

So at six months a child
should be turning over...

A child is unable to turn over,

to sit up, to stand,
to walk, to talk.

Tay-Sachs begins

at one infinitesimal spot
on the DNA ladder,

when just one letter goes wrong.

Say this cluster of atoms
is a picture of that letter.

A mistake here can come down
to just four atoms, that's it.

But since genes create proteins,

that error creates a problem
in this protein,

which is supposed to dissolve
fat in the brain.

So now the protein doesn't work,

so fat builds up,
swells the brain,

and eventually strangles and
crushes critical brain cells.

And all of this is the result

of one bad letter
in that baby's DNA.

In most cases,

it's a single base change...

As we say,
a "letter difference."

One defective letter
out of three billion,

and no way to fix it.

That's my boy.

Tay-Sachs is a relentlessly
progressive disease.

In the year since his diagnosis,
Hayden has gone blind.

He can't eat solid food.

It's harder and harder
for him to swallow.

He can't move on his own at all.

And he has seizures
as often as ten times a day.

For children with
classical Tay-Sachs disease,

there's only one outcome,

and children die
by age five to seven,

sometimes even before age five.

As it happens, Tim Lord has
an identical twin brother.

When Hayden was diagnosed,
that brother, Charlie,

went to New York to be with Tim.

And, of course, Charlie
called his wife, Blyth,

to tell her the news.

Blyth had been Allison's
roommate in college

and her best friend.

What are you going
to say about that?

Charlie told me
that Hayden had Tay-Sachs.

He called me on the phone and he
told me immediately what it was.

I went up onto the computer
and looked it up,

and then just couldn't
believe what I read.

Can you finish your cookie?

Blyth and Charlie had a
three-year-old daughter, Taylor,

and a baby girl named Cameron.

Cameron was healthy and happy
except for one small thing.

On the NTSAD Web site,
it talks about...

typically between six
and eight months

is when the signs start coming,

but one of the early signs
is that they startle easily.

And Hayden had always had
a really heavy startle response.

But we had noticed that Cameron

had a comparable startle
response... not quite as severe,

but absolutely not
like Taylor had had.

As soon as she saw
that early warning sign

on the Tay-Sachs Web site,

Blyth went to get herself
and Cameron tested.

It was another week.

It was exactly a week

until we got the final results
on Cameron's blood work,

and then the Tuesday
before Thanksgiving

we went into our pediatrician's
office and he had the results,

and we found out that night
that Blyth was a carrier

and that...

Cameron had Tay-Sachs.

And that Cameron had Tay-Sachs.

He said...

All he said was,
"I'm sorry."

Tay-Sachs is
a very rare condition.

It usually occurs in specific
groups, like Ashkenazi Jews,

and even then, the baby
must inherit the bad gene

from both parents.

So even though there
is a Tay-Sachs test,

the Lords had no reason
to think they would be at risk.

And yet, incredibly,
all four of them...

Tim and Charlie
and both their wives...

All four were carriers.

That was an unbelievably
bad roll of the genetic dice.

Hey, little nugget.

Charlie and I are
incredibly close

and have been all our lives.

And when I think about him and
Blyth having to go through this,

it just seems really cruel.

It just seems too much.

I had already geared myself up
for being my brother's rock,

and I couldn't imagine
having to help him...

and go through it myself.

There's Blyth.

For families like the Lords,
and for everybody,

the Human Genome Project offers
the chance to find out early

if we're at risk
for all kinds of diseases.

I love Taylor.

I would like to see

a really aggressive push
to develop a test

for hundreds
of genetic diseases,

so that parents
could be informed

before they started
to have children

as to the dangers
that face them.

And I think
it's within our grasp.

Now that they've mapped
the human gene,

I mean, the information is there

for people to begin
to sort through.

Good night, punkin.

They're horrible, horrible,
horrible diseases,

and if there's any way
that you can be tested

for a whole host of them and
not have them affect a child,

I think it's something
that we have to focus on.

Hayden Lord died a few months
before his third birthday.

What makes this story
especially hard to bear

is we now know
that a loss that huge...

And it was a catastrophe,
by any measure...

Started with a single error
a few atoms across

buried inside a cell.

Now, that something so small

could trigger such
an enormous result

is a prospective that
is incredibly frightening,

except that now geneticists
have figured out

how to see many
of these tiny errors

before they become catastrophes.

When you think about that,
that's an extraordinary thing...

To spot a catastrophe

when it's still
an insignificant dot in a cell.

Which is the promise
of the Human Genome Project:

It is, first and foremost,
an early warning system

for a host of diseases,
which will give, hopefully,

parents, doctors and scientists

an advantage that
we have never had before,

because when you can
see trouble coming

way, way before it starts,

you have a chance to stop it
or treat it.

Eventually, you might cure it.

And that's why,

when Congress created the Human
Genome Project in 1990,

the challenge was
to get a complete list

of our As, Ts, Cs and Gs
as quickly as possible,

so the business of making tests,
medicines and cures could begin.

They figured it would take about
15 years to decode a human being

and at the time,
that seemed reasonable...

until this man...

Scientist, entrepreneur
and speedboat enthusiast
Craig Venter...

Decided that he could do it
faster, much faster.

It's like sailing...

Once you have two sailboats
on the water

going approximately in the same
direction, they're racing.

And science works
very much the same way.

If you have two labs remotely
working on the same thing,

there... one tries to get there
faster or better...

you know, higher quality...
something different,

in part because our society
recognizes only first place.

Back in 1990, Venter was one
of many government scientists

painstakingly decoding
proteins and genes.

His focus was one protein
in the brain.

It took ten years
to get the protein

and it took a whole year

to get 1,000 letters
of genetic code.

For Venter, that was
way too slow.

So, you're thinking
there must be a better way

when you're gazing outside?

Yes, yeah.
And then...

There had to be a better way.

And that's when he learned

that someone had invented
a new machine

that could identify Cs
and Ts and As and Gs

with remarkable speed,

and Craig Venter just loves
machines that go fast.

I immediately
contacted the company

to see if I could get
one of the first machines.

And here's how they work.

Human DNA is chopped by robots
into tiny pieces.

These pieces are copied over
and over again in bacteria

and then tagged
with colored dyes.

A laser bounces light
off each snip of DNA

and the colors that it sees
represent individual letters

in the genetic code.

And these computers can do this
24 hours a day, every day.

So now you can see
clearly the peaks.

Yep.

So, there's just
a blue one coming up

so that's a C coming up.

So... you could
read this

and you could write
this all down.

So, blue, yellow,
red, red, yellow.

So that's C, G

T, T, A.

Then somehow,
all these little pieces

have to be put together again
in the right order.

Venter's dream was to have
hundreds of new machines

at his fingertips,
so he quit his government job

and formed a company he called
Celera Genomics...

Celera from the Latin word
"celerity," meaning "speed."

And this is what he built.

Oh, my Lord.

And you know why
that's interesting?

It's like there's
almost nobody here.

Yeah... it's all automated.

So, who is this guy and why is
he such a bulldog for speed?

Craig Venter grew up
in California,

left high school and spent
a year as a surfing bum...

On the beach by day and
a stock boy at Sears by night.

He was inevitably drafted,
went to Vietnam with the Navy.

That's him way over
there on the left.

He was eventually assigned
to a naval hospital in Da Nang

during the Tet Offensive

when Americans were taking
very heavy casualties.

At 21, he was
in the triage unit,

where they decide who will live
and who will die.

When you're young
and you see a lot of people die

and they all could
be you, do you
then feel

that you sort of owe them cures?

Cures that they'll never get?

Or am I overromanticizing?

Well, the motivations
become complex.

That's certainly a part of it.

Also I think surviving
the year there was, uh...

So it... puts things
in perspective

that I think if you're
not in that situation,

you can never truly
have in perspective.

So you hear time...
you hear ticking?

Yeah.

But also I feel that I've had
this tremendous gift

for all these years
since I got back in 1968,

and I wanted to make sure
I did something with it.

Yeah.

In the spring of 1998,
Venter announced

that he and his company
were going to sequence

all three billion letters of
the human genome in two years.

Remember, the government said
it was going to take 15.

There was a lot of arrogance
that went with that program.

They were going
to do it at their pace,

and a lot of the scientists,

you know, if they were
really being honest with you,

would tell you that they planned
to retire doing this program.

You know,
that's not what we think

is the right way to do science,

especially science that affects
so many people's lives.

Craig's a high-
testosterone male...

who has... he just loves
being an iconoclast, right?

He loves rattling
people's cages,

and he's done that consistently
in the genome project.

Craig Venter's announcement

that his team would finish the
entire genome in just two years

galvanized everybody working
on the public project.

Now they were scrambling
to keep up.

There are some limitations...

We don't think we can get
this thing to go any faster

at the moment without throwing
a lot more robotics at it.

The arm physically takes
20 seconds...

Francis Collins,
the head of the Genome Project

was determined

that Celera was not going
to beat his teams to the prize.

He made a dramatic decision:

to try to cut five full years
off the original plan.

That be an okay way to do it?

When the major
genome centers met

and agreed to go for broke here,

I don't think
there was anybody in the room

that was very confident
we could do that.

I mean, you could sit down

with a piece of paper
and make projections...

"If everything went really well,
that might get you there"...

But there were so many ways

this could have just run
completely off the track.

For the air compressor...

At MIT, they decided to try to
scale up their effort 15-fold,

and that meant a major change
in their usual academic pace.

We basically had a goal
since March to get

to a plate-a-minute operation

from womb to tomb,
all the way through.

In the fall of 1999,

representatives from
the five major labs come

to check out
Eric Lander's operation.

All the big honchos in the
Human Genome Project are here...

Scientists from Washington
University in St. Louis,

Baylor College of Medicine
in Texas,

the Department of Energy;

she's from the Sanger Centre
in England.

If they want to finish
the genome before Craig Venter,

these folks have to figure out
how to outfit their labs

with a lot of new and fancy
and unfamiliar equipment.

And they've got to do it fast.

So we'll have
to run some sort
of a conduit.

At MIT, a different crate
is arriving almost daily.

It's like Christmas...
Everyone unwrap something.

Just like a bad Christmas
present, assembly is required,

and the instructions are,
of course, not always clear.

Probably have to rip these out.

Oh, no, the magnet plates
stick to each other?

This is about right...

Plus or minus three feet.

Since one's on the cutting edge,

I guess they call it
the "bleeding edge."

Right?

Nothing is really
working as you'd
expect.

All the stuff we're doing

will be working perfectly

as soon as we're
ready to junk it.

The MIT crew is particularly
excited about their brand-new

$300,000 state-of-the-art
DNA-purifying machine.

Turn it on.

Maiden voyage... it didn't ask me

for a password, that's good.

On it goes.

Got the yellow light right away?

That's okay, that's...

I don't think the blinking light
is a good sign.

It's sort of like flying
a very large plane

and repairing it
while you're flying.

And you want to figure out
what went wrong.

And you also realize
that you're spending...

oh, tens of thousands
of dollars an hour.

So you feel
under a little pressure

to sort of work this out
as quickly as you can.

So he calls
the customer service line.

And of course he's put on hold.

So he waits.

And he waits.

And he waits.

Anyway, it turns out
that the $300,000 machine

does have one tiny little valve
that's broken, and so...

it doesn't work.

You never know whether the
problem is due to some robot...

some funky bit of biochemistry,

some... chemical that you've got
that isn't really working.

And so it's, like,
incredibly complicated.

So we have a test transformation

where we transform
a tenth of our ligation...

And add SDS to lyse the phage...

All of our therm recyclers
have 384-well plates.

So if you
basically determine
where your 96-well...

plate wells were
on this 384-well plate

and give them each
a different run module.

COLLINS
You try to ramp something up,

anything that's
the slightest bit kludgey

suddenly becomes
a major bottleneck.

We talked about doing
a full-up test today,

and we weren't quite feeling
good about doing that yet, so...

There was a considerable sense
of white knuckles

amongst all of us,

because here
we'd made this promise.

We were on the record here,
saying we're going to do this.

And things weren't working,
the machines were breaking down.

They haven't got them in right,

so it's a quick swap.

This is, like, November?

Yeah.

And it's got to work now,
the time is running out.

This was just delivered
on Tuesday,

so this is one of its
three inaugural runs.

And, um, it seems
to be flawless so far.

It took a while,
but the government teams

finally hit their stride.

But the fall of that year

was really sort of
the determining time.

The centers really
proved their mettle.

And every one of them

began to catch this rising curve

and ride it, and we began to see

data appearing
at prodigious rates.

By early 2000, a thousand
base pairs a second

were rolling out
of this combined enterprise...

Seven days a week,
24 hours a day,

a thousand base pairs a second.

Then it really starts to go.

And those thousands
of base pairs poured out

of the university labs
directly onto the Internet.

Updated every night,

it's available
for anybody and everybody

including, by the way,
the competition.

Customers love our data...

Celera admitted
they got lots of data

directly from the government.

And Tony White,
who runs the company

that owns Celera,
says, "Why not?"

That's publicly available data.

I'm a taxpayer,
Celera's a taxpayer.

You know, it's publicly...

Why should we be excluded
from getting it?

I mean, again,
are they creating it

to give it to mankind
except Celera?

Is that... is that the idea?

It isn't about us
getting the data.

It's about
this academic jealousy.

It's about the fact that our
data in combination with theirs

gives us a perceived
unfair advantage

over this so-called race.

If they want to race us,
that's their business.

Of course they do, don't they?

I suppose they may.

I suspect strongly they may.

Our job is to get
that data out there

so everybody can go use it.

Since Celera was sequencing
the genome with private money,

some critics wondered,
"Why should the government

pour so much cash
into the exact same research?"

In the United States,

we invested in a national
highway system in the 1950s.

We got tremendous return
for building roads for free

and letting everybody
drive up and down them

for whatever purpose
they wanted.

We're building a road up and
down the chromosomes for free.

People can drive
up and down those chromosomes

for anything they want to.

They can make discoveries.

They can learn about medicine.

They can learn about history,
whatever they want.

It is worth
the public investment

to make those roads available.

But wait a second.

What I really want to know

is if you're making
a road map of a human being,

which human beings
are we mapping?

I mean, humans come
in so many varieties,

so whose genes exactly
are we looking at?

It's mostly a guy from Buffalo
and a woman from Buffalo.

That's because the laboratory...

Whoa, whoa... an anonymous couple

from Buffalo?

No, they're not a couple.

They've never met.

Oh, I see.

The laboratory

was in Buffalo.

And so they put an ad
in Buffalo newspapers

and they got random
volunteers from Buffalo.

They got about 20 of them

and chose at random

this sample and that sample
and that sample.

So nobody knows who they are.

And what about Celera?

Whose DNA are they mapping?

They also got a bunch
of volunteers... around 20...

And picked five lucky winners.

We tried to have some
diversity in terms of...

we had an African American,

uh, somebody self-proclaimed
Chinese ancestry,

uh, two Caucasians,
and a Hispanic.

So, uh, some of the volunteers

were here on the staff and...

I have to ask because
everybody does.

Are you one of them?

Uh, I am one of
the volunteers, yes.

Oh, okay...
do you know
whether you...

whether you are
one of the winners?

I have a pretty good idea, yes.

Uh, but...

I... I can't
disclose that, um...

it... because
it doesn't matter.

Well, if you're
the head of
the company

and you're watching
the decoding of moi,

that has a little
Miss Piggy quality
to it to my mind.

Well, any scientist that I know

would love to be looking
at their own genetic code.

I mean, how could you not want
to and work in this field?

- Well, I don't know...
- I don't work in this field.

But I do wonder...

Could any small group...

I mean, could that guy
from Buffalo...

Could he really be a stand-in
for all humankind?

Hasn't it been drummed into us
since birth

that we're all... different,

each and every one of us
completely unique?

We certainly look different.

People come in so many shapes
and colors and sizes.

The DNA of these humans has got
to be significantly different

from the DNA of this human.

Right?

The genetic difference
between any two people:

one-tenth of a percent.

Those two, and any two people
on this planet,

are 99.9% identical
at the DNA level.

It's only one letter
in a thousand difference.

And... if I
were to bring,

secretly, into another room,

a black man,
an Asian man
and a white man

and show you only
their genetic code,

could you tell which
one was the white...

Probably not.

What's going on?

Well, it tells us

that first, as a species we
are very, very closely related,

because any two humans
being 99.9% identical means

that we're much more
closely related

than any two chimpanzees
in Africa.

Wait, wait... you mean

if two chimpanzees are swinging
through the forest,

and you look
at the genes of chimp A

and the genes of chimp B...

Average difference

between those chimps
is four or five times more

than the average difference
between two humans

that you'd pluck
off this planet.

Because we're such
a young species?

That's right.

See, the thing is,
we are the descendants

of a very small
founding population.

Every human
on this planet goes back

to a founding population of
perhaps 10,000 or 20,000 people

in Africa
about 100,000 years ago.

That little population
didn't have

a great deal
of genetic variation.

And what happened was
it was successful.

It multiplied all over
the world, but in that time,

relatively little new genetic
variation has built up.

And so we have today
on our planet

about the same genetic variation

that we walked
out of Africa with.

So people are incredibly
similar to each other.

But not only that... it turns out

we also share many genes
with... well, everything.

50% of the genes
in a banana are in us?

How different are you
from a banana?

I feel... and I feel
I can say this

with some authority... very
different from a banana.

You may feel different...

I eat a banana.

Look, you've got cells.

You've got
to make those cells divide.

All the machinery
for replicating your DNA,

all the machinery
for controlling the cell cycle,

the cell surface,
for making nutrients...

All that's the same
in you and a banana.

Deep down, the fundamental
mechanisms of life

were worked out only once
on this planet...

and they've gotten reused
in every organism.

The closer and closer
you get to a cell,

the more you see a bag
with stuff in it, and a nucleus,

and most of those basic
functions are the same.

Evolution doesn't go
reinvent something

when it doesn't have to.

Take bakers' yeast.

Bakers' yeast, we're related to

1½ billion years ago.

But even after 1½ billion years

of evolutionary separation,

the parts were still
interchangeable

for lots of these genes.

Now, does that mean...

I just want to make sure
I understand this right.

Does that mean when you
look through those things...

All the Cs and the As
and the Ts and the Gs...

Are you seeing the exact
same letter sequences

in the exact same alignment?

When you look at the yeast
and you look at the person

is it C-C-C-A-T-T-T?

Sometimes.

It's eerie.

The gene sequence
is almost identical.

There are some genes, like
ubiquitin, that's 97% identical

between humans and yeast

even after a billion
years of evolution.

Well, with a name like
that, it's got to be.

Well, yeah,

but you've got to understand
that deep down,

we are very much partaking

of that same bag of tricks
that evolution's been using

to make organisms
all over this planet.

It seems incredible,

but all this information
about evolution,

about our relationship to each
other and to all living things...

It's all right here in this
monotonous stream of letters.

And as the Human Genome Project
progressed and hit high gear,

the pace of discovery quickened.

Once they got fully automated,
it wasn't long

before Lander and Collins

and all the other
public project teams

had reason to celebrate.

I'm Francis Collins,
the director

of the National Human Genome
Research Institute,

and we are happy to be here
together to have a party today.

By November of 1999,

they had reached
a major milestone.

In an five-way award ceremony,
hooked up by satellite,

the major university teams
announced they had finished

a billion base pairs of DNA,
a third of the total genome.

Watch out.

You may want to do more now
when you go home...

Have we got everybody?

Pass them down,
pass them down that way.

I would like to propose a toast.

A billion base pairs,

all on the public Internet,

available to anybody
in the world.

It's an incredible achievement.

It hasn't been
completely painless.

And, because I know
everybody in this room

is living and breathing
and thinking

every single moment of the day

about how to make
all this happen,

how we can hit full scale,
I want to be sure you realize

what a remarkable thing
we pulled off.

I hope you also know
that this is history.

Um...

Whatever else you do
in your lives,

you're part of history.

We're part
of an amazing effort
on the part of the world

to produce this.

And this isn't going to be
like the Moon,

where we just visit
occasionally.

This is going to be something

that every student,
every doctor uses every day

in the next century
and the century
after that.

It's something
to tell your kids about.

Something to tell
your grandkids about.

It's something you should all
be tremendously proud of,

and I'm tremendously proud
of you.

A toast to this remarkable group

to the work we've done,
to the work ahead.

Hear, hear.

Hear, hear.

Everybody here is hoping

the Genome Project
will help cure disease,

and the sooner it's done,
the better for all of us.

They get to sequence it
before us.

I guess he wants
to keep some of it.

But there's something more
than idealism,

more than even pride

that's driving this race
to finish the genome.

And that's the knowledge that,
with every day that passes,

more and more pieces
of our genome

are being turned
into private property

by way of the U.S.
Patent Office.

I said promptly.

The office is inundated
with requests for patents

for every imaginable invention,

from Star Wars action figures
to jet engines.

And here,
along with all those gizmos,

are requests for patents
for human genes...

Things that exist naturally
in every one of us.

How is this possible?

We regard genes
as a patentable subject matter

as we regard
almost any chemical.

We have issued patents
on a number of compounds,

a number of compositions that
are found in the human body.

For example, um, the gene
that encodes for insulin

has been patented.

And that now is used to make

almost all of the insulin
that is made,

so people's lives
are being saved today.

Diabetics' lives are better.

As a matter of fact,
if we ruled out

every chemical that's found
in the human body,

there'd be an awful lot
of inventions

that were not able
to be protected.

Generally, to patent
an invention,

you've got to prove
that it's new and useful.

But a few years ago,
critics said

that the patent office
wasn't being tough enough.

So applicants would say, "Well,
here's a brand-new sequence

"of As, Cs, Ts and Gs
right out of our machines.

"That's new.

"Now, useful...

I wonder what they
are going to be used for."

Well, they were kind of vague
about use, says Eric Lander.

The sort of thing
that people used to do then

was they would say,

"It could be used as a probe
to detect itself."

It's a trivial use.

I mean, it's like saying,

"I could use this new protein

as packing peanuts
to stuff in a box."

But wouldn't
the patent examiner say,

"That's not useful"?

No, no, no.

You see,
the patent guidelines
were very unclear.

I don't object
to giving somebody

that limited-time monopoly

when they've really invented
a cure for a disease,

some really important therapy,
but I do object

to giving a monopoly

when somebody
has simply described

the couple hundred
letters of a gene,

has no idea what use
you could have in medicine,

because you've given away
that precious monopoly

to somebody who's done
a little bit of work,

and then the people who want to
come along and do a lot of work

to turn it into a therapy...

Well, they've got to go pay
the person who already owns it.

I think it's a bad deal
for society.

It takes at least two years

for the patent office to process
a single application.

So right now, there are
about 20,000 genetic patents

waiting for approval,
all in limbo.

This can cause problems
for drug companies

trying to work with genes
to cure disease.

I'm a company

trying to do work on this, this
and this rung of the ladder...

because I think I can develop

a cure for cancer right here,

for the sake of argument.

But of course, I have to worry

that somebody owns this space.

You have to worry a lot

that this region here
that you're working on

that might cure cancer

has already been patented
by somebody else,

and that that patent filing
is not public.

And so you are living
with the shadow

that all of your work
may go for naught.

Because one day,
the phone rings and says

"Sorry, you can't work here...
Get off my territory."

Or, "You can work here,

but I'm going to charge
you $100,000 a week."

Or, "You can work here and
I'll charge you a nickel,

but I want 50% of
whatever you discover..."

And the problem there is...
it's even worse,

because many companies
don't start the work

whenever there's a cloud
over who owns that.

If there's uncertainty,

companies would rather
be working some place

where they don't have
uncertainty,

and therefore, I think,
work doesn't get done

because of the confusion
over who owns stuff.

Supporters of patents say

they are a crucial incentive
for drug companies.

Drug research is
phenomenally expensive,

but if a company can monopolize
a big discovery with a patent,

it can make hundreds
of millions of dollars.

Research scientists
suddenly find themselves

in an unfamiliar world
ruled by big money.

Every scientist
who does research

is now being looked upon

as a generator of wealth.

Even if that person
is not interested in it,

if they sequence some DNA,

that could be
patentable material.

So whether the scientist
likes it or not,

he or she becomes
an entrepreneur,

just by virtue of doing science.

Craig Venter is first
a scientist,

but he has made the leap
from academia

into the business world.

Let me talk about
the business of this.

Do you
consider yourself
a businessman?

No, in fact, I still
sort of bristle at the term

for some reason.

But my philosophy is,

we would not get
medical breakthroughs

in this country at all

if it wasn't done
in a business setting.

We would not have new therapies

if we didn't have a biotech
and pharmaceutical industry.

But are they...

If you bristle at the word
"businessman," that might be

because, in some part of
your soul, you may think

that the business of science

and the business of business

are fundamentally incompatible
for one simple reason...

That the business has
to sell something

and the science has to
learn or teach something.

I think I bristle at it

because it's used as an attack,
used as a criticism.

Um...

In this case, if the science
is not spectacular,

if the medicine
is not spectacular,

there will be no profits.

Venter was given $300 million
to set up Celera,

and his investors are expecting
something in return.

But how can they profit
from the genome?

At the moment, the company is
banking on pure computer power.

This is Celera's master control.

24 hours a day,

technicians monitor all
the company's major operations,

including the hundreds
of sequencers

that are constantly decoding
our genes.

And they oversee Celera's
main source of income:

a massive Web site

where, for a fee,
you can explore several genomes,

including those
of fruit flies, mice

and, of course, humans.

What all this adds up to is
something like a big browser...

A user-friendly interface
between you and your genes.

Our business is to sell

products that enable research.

That's essentially what we do.

So... so we're used to selling

the picks and the shovels
to the miners.

Tools to interpret the human
genome and other related species

are merely more... are more
products along the same genre.

They just happen to be
less tangible than a machine.

So Celera's business plan is
to gather information

from all kinds of creatures,

put it together
and sell their findings

to drug companies
or universities or whomever.

But it's the selling part...
Selling scientific information...

That makes some scientists
very uncomfortable.

This is a big change
in the ethos

of the scientific community,
which is...

Supposedly, it was built

upon the idea
of communitarian values,

of the free and open exchange
of information...

The fundamental idea
that when you learn something,

you publish it immediately,
you share it with others.

Science grows
by this communitarian interest

of shared knowledge.

I think, why doesn't Pfizer
give away their drugs?

They could help
a lot more people

if they didn't charge for them.

At what point
is free really free?

I mean, at some price level...

Tony White has
absolutely no problem

with making money
from the human genome.

I hope

we have a legal monopoly
on the information.

I hope our product is so good
and so valuable to people

that they feel
that it's necessary

to come through us to get it.

Anybody that wants to
can build all the tools

that we're going to build.

Whether or not they will choose
to is a different matter.

Now, which is the better
business to be in, do you think:

the landlord business or this...

"You subscribe, and I'll
give you some information

about anything you
want" business?

They're both lousy businesses.

They're lousy?

They're lousy businesses

by comparison with
the real business: make drugs.

Actually make molecules
that cure people.

Curing people is
the whole point, right?

But if there is one thing

that the Human Genome Project
has taught us,

it's that finding cures

is a whole lot harder than
simply reading letters of DNA.

Take, for example, the case
of little Riley Demanche.

At two months, Riley appears to
be a perfectly healthy baby boy,

but he's not.

When Riley was just 13 days old,

Kathy Demanche got the call
that every parent dreads.

My pediatrician called
on a Thursday evening

and he said,

"I need to talk to you
about the baby."

He said,
"Are you sitting down?"

And I'm, like, "Yeah..."

And that really surprised me.

And he said,
"Are you holding the baby?"

Because he didn't want me
to drop the baby, obviously.

And he said that tests
came through

and Riley tested positive
to cystic fibrosis.

And I was in shock.

How are you?

As Kathy and her husband
would soon learn,

cystic fibrosis...
CF, for short...

Attacks several organs of the
body, but especially the lungs.

Its victims suffer from
chronic respiratory infections,

and half of all CF patients die
before the age of 30.

Sounds good.

Good.

I think we can still be hopeful

that their child will grow up

to have a normal, healthy,
happy and long life,

but at the present time, I don't
have any guarantees about that.

Someone had asked me,

"Are you prepared to bury
your son at such a young age

whether it's four or 40?"

And he was 17 days old
when that happened,

and I said, "I've had him
for 17 days.

I wouldn't trade those 17 days."

Finding the genetic defect
that causes CF

was big news back in 1989.

Medical researchers say
they have discovered the gene

which is responsible
for cystic fibrosis,

the most common inherited fatal
disease in this country.

We are going to cure
this disease.

A lot of people expected
the cure to arrive any day.

It didn't.

Francis Collins, now head of
the government's genome project,

led one of the teams
that discovered the CF gene.

We still have not seen
this disease cured,

or even particularly benefited,

by all of this wonderful
molecular biology.

CF is still treated pretty much
the way it was ten years ago.

But that is going to change.

The original hope was that
babies like Riley could be cured

by gene therapy...
Medicine that would provide

a good working copy
of a broken gene.

But attempts at gene therapy
have hardly ever worked.

They remain
highly controversial.

So if there's going to be an
effective treatment for Riley,

instead of fixing his genes

we're going to take a look...
And this is new territory...

At his proteins.

What do proteins do?

When you look at yourself
in the mirror,

you don't see DNA.

You don't see RNA.

You see proteins and
the result of protein action.

That's what we are
physically composed of.

So it's not a Rodgers
and Hammerstein thing

where one guy does the tune

and the other guy
does the lyrics.

This is a case
where the genes
create the proteins

and the proteins create us.

That's right.

We are the accumulation

of our proteins
and our protein activities.

A protein starts out

as a long chain of different
chemicals, amino acids.

But unlike genes, proteins won't
work in a straight line.

Genes are effectively
one-dimensional.

If you write down the sequence
of A, C, G and T,

that's kind of
what you need to know
about that gene.

But proteins are
three-dimensional.

They have to be, because
we're three-dimensional

and we're made
of those proteins.

Otherwise, we'd all sort of be

linear, unimaginably weird
creatures.

Here's part of a protein.

Think of them
as tangles of ribbon.

They come in any number
of different shapes.

They can look like this

or like this...

or this.

The varieties are endless.

But when it's created,
every protein is told,

"Here is your shape."

And that shape defines
what it does,

tells all the other
proteins what it does,

and that's how
they recognize each other

when they hook up
and do business.

In the protein world,
your shape is your destiny.

They have needs and reasons

to want to be snuggled up

in a particular way.

And actually, a particular
amino acid sequence

will almost always fold
in a precise way.

Should I think origami-like?

I mean, should I think
folding and then...?

It's very elegant,
very complicated,

and we still do not
have the ability

to precisely predict
how that's going to work.

But obviously it does work.

Except, of course,
if something does go wrong,

and that's what happened
to Baby Riley.

Riley has a tiny error
in his DNA.

Just three letters out of
three billion are missing,

but because of that error,
he has a faulty gene,

and that faulty gene creates
a faulty, or misshapen, protein.

And just the slightest
little changes in shape

and boom...
The consequences are huge,

because it is now misshapen

and a key protein that's
found in lung cells...

In fact, in many cells...
Can't do its job.

So let's take a look
at some real lung cells.

We'll travel in.

This is the lining, or
the membrane, of a lung cell,

and here's how the protein
is supposed to work.

The top of your screen
is the outside of a cell;

the bottom of the screen, the
inside of the cell, of course.

And our healthy protein is
providing a kind of chute

so that salt can enter
and leave the cell.

Those little green bubbles...
That's salt.

And as you see here,
the salt is getting through.

But if the protein
is not the right shape,

then it's not allowed
into the membrane.

It can't do its job.

And without that protein,
as you see here,

salt gets trapped
inside the cell,

and that triggers
a whole chain of reactions

that makes
the cell surface sticky

and covered with thick mucus.

The first two positions

that are done sitting up

are probably a little
more difficult to do.

That mucus has to be
dislodged physically.

Riley's family is learning

to loosen the mucus that
may develop in his lungs

and fight infections
with antibiotics.

You want
to sort of do it
with a cupped hand.

Trying to get at
the top of the lung?

But what the doctors and the
scientists would love to do is,

if they can't fix
Baby Riley's genes,

then maybe there's some way

to treat Riley's
misshapen protein

and restore the original shape.

Because if you could just
get them shaped right,

the proteins should become

instantly recognizable
to other proteins

and get back to business.

But look at these things!

How would we ever learn

to properly fold wildly
multidimensional proteins?

It may be doable,
but it won't be easy.

The Genome Project
was a piece of cake

compared to most other things,

because genetic information
is linear.

It goes in a simple line
up and down the chromosome.

Once you start talking about
the three-dimensional shapes

into which protein
chains can fold...

And how they can stick to each
other in many different ways

to do things...

Or the ways in which
cells can interact

like wiring up in your brain,

you're not in a one-dimensional
problem anymore.

You're not in Kansas anymore.

And as scientists head
into the world of proteins,

they're looking very closely
at patients like Tony Ramos.

Tony has cystic fibrosis,
but it's not the typical case.

CF almost always develops
in early childhood.

Tony didn't have any symptoms
until she was 15.

I started having a cough,

and then we kept thinking
I was catching a lot of colds.

And my stepmother thought,
you know, that's not right.

So I started going to doctors
trying to figure it out

and went through a lot of tests
because I don't fit the profile.

Tuberculosis,
walking pneumonia...

You know, test after test.

At the time of her diagnosis,
Tony's family was told

she might not survive
beyond her 21st birthday.

She's now in her mid-40s,
but her CF is worsening.

Two or three times a year,

she does have to be admitted
to the hospital

to clean out her lungs.

You know, they were always doing

some little funky study
to help the cause

because we're not the normal...

you know, there's not
a whole lot of us.

I know that they don't
know why, you know,

and it's the big question mark,

and hopefully, you know,
research will keep going

and figure it out.

Here's the question.

Tony was born with a mistake
in the same gene as Baby Riley

and yet, for some reason,

when Tony was a baby,
she didn't get sick.

Why?

And now that she is sick,
she hasn't died.

Why?

What does Tony have that the
other CF patients don't have?

Dr. Craig Gerard believes

the answer lies in her genes,
in her DNA.

How are you?

Good. How are you?

Do you think the change
in antibiotics is helping?

Yes... and I dropped
four pounds overnight.

That's a lot of weight.

Yeah.

Okay... mind if I have a listen?

No gene acts in isolation.

It is always acting

as a part of a larger picture.

And there can therefore be
other genes which compensate.

Could it be that Tony has

some other genetic mutations...

Good mutations that are
producing good proteins...

That kept her healthy
for 15 years

and are keeping
her alive right now?

You sound a lot better
than you did

when you came in,

so I think you're on the mend.

Okay, hang in there.

Thanks.

In my opinion,

there are genes
that are allowing her

to have a more, uh...

beneficial course, if you will,
than another patient.

You sound good.

Okay.

Dr. Gerard is searching for
the special ingredient in Tony.

If it turns out she has

one or two good proteins
that are helping her,

maybe we could bottle them

and use them to help all
CF patients, like Baby Riley.

If there was ever an emergency,

and I didn't know how to do it

and I couldn't
get in touch with you...

No one can predict
Riley's future

or to what extent CF
will affect his life,

but now that we're getting
the map of our genes,

we'll be able to take
the next big step.

Because what genes do,
basically,

is they make proteins.

I get the sense

that everybody's
getting out of
the gene business

and suddenly going
into this new business

called
"the protein business."

There's even a new name.

Instead of the genome,
I'm hearing

this other name, which I...

The proteome.

The proteome.

Yes.

What is that?

Well, the genome is

the collection
of all your genes and DNA.

The proteome is the collection
of all your proteins.

See, what's happening is

we're realizing

that if we wanted
to understand life,

we had to start systematically
at the bottom

and get all the building blocks.

The first building blocks
are the DNA letters.

From them we can infer
the genes.

From the genes, we can infer

the protein products
that they make

that do all the work
of your cell.

Then we've got to understand

what each of those proteins
does, what its shape is,

how they interact
with each other

and how they make kind of
circuits and connections

with each other.

So in some sense,
this is just the beginning

of a very comprehensive,
systematic program

to understand all the components

and how they all connect
with each other.

All the components
and how they connect.

But how many components
are there?

How many genes and how
many proteins do we have?

A real shock about
the genome sequence

was that we have
so many fewer genes

than we've been teaching
our students.

The official textbook answer
is the human has 100,000 genes.

Everybody's known that
since the early 1980s.

The only problem is
it's not true.

Turns out we only have
30,000 or so genes.

30,000 genes? That's it?

Not everybody agrees
with this number,

but that's about as many
as a mouse!

Even a fruit fly
has 14,000 genes.

That's really bothersome
to many people,

that we only have about twice
as many genes as a fruit fly.

Because we really like
to think of ourselves

as a lot more than twice
as complex.

Well, don't you?

I certainly like to think
of myself that way.

And so it raises two questions:

Are we really more complex?

You show me the fruit fly
that can compose like Mozart

and then I'll, you know...

Yeah, show me
the human that can fly, right?

So?

All right.

We all have our talents, right?

I suppose we do.

But as it happens,
we have lots of genes

that are virtually identical
in us and fruit flies.

But happily, our genes
seem to do more.

So, let's say
that I am a fruit fly.

One of my fruit fly genes
may make

one and two
slightly different proteins.

But now I'm a human,
and the very same gene in me

might make one, two, three,
four different proteins,

and then these four proteins
could combine

and build even bigger
and more proteins.

Turns out that the gene
makes a message,

but the message can be
spliced up in different ways.

And so a gene might make
three proteins or four proteins,

and then that protein
can get modified.

There could be other proteins

that stick some
phosphate group on it

or two phosphate groups.

And in fact,
all of these
modifications

to the proteins could make them
function differently.

So while you might only have,
say, 30,000 genes,

you could have
100,000 distinct proteins,

and when you're done putting

all the different modifications
on them,

there might be
a million of them.

Scary thought.

So starting with
the same raw ingredients,

the fruit fly goes, "mmm, phht,
mmm, phht, mmm, phht."

But the human, by somehow
or other being able to arrange

all the parts in
many different ways,

can produce melodies,

perhaps.

Yes, although we're
not that good

at hearing the melodies yet.

We can...

One of the exciting things about
reading the genome sequence now

is we're getting a glimpse
at that complexity of the parts

and how it's a symphony
rather than a simple tune.

But it's not that easy to just
read the sheet music there

and hear the symphony
that's coming out of it.

Okay, so it's not just
the number of genes;

it's all the different proteins
they can make

and then the way
those proteins interact.

And to figure out
all those interactions

and how they affect
health and disease...

That's going to keep
scientists very busy

for the next few decades.

But, of course, before the
research can begin in earnest,

they first have to complete
the parts list... all the genes.

And by the spring of 2000,

both sides...
The public labs and Celera...

They were in hyper-drive,

each camp madly trying to be the
first to reach the finish line

and get all
three billion letters.

The pace of things
and the magnitude of things

was really incredible.

I mean, I would remember
coming in

and just having this really
gripping feeling in my gut,

just... I mean, just
an intense kind of, "Oh, my God,

am I up to this?"

You know whoever has
this reference sequence

to the human genome
out there in the world first,

they're going to be famous.

They're going to be on the front
page of The New York Times

and a lot more than that, um,
for a long time.

They're going to be,
you know, celebrities.

And, um, you know, when that's
going on, it's not unreasonable

that people are going to reach
for that star

and try to get there
before the other person.

I thought that the really
intense competition

in this world were
among businesses

where there was a profit motive.

I now find that we are pikers
in the business world

compared to the academic
competition

that exists out there.

And I'm beginning
to understand why:

because their currency
is publication;

their currency is attribution.

And their next funding comes
from their last victory.

I think we're all better off

for the fact that there is
this competition.

What you want is a system
that gets people riled up

and try to do something faster,
better and cheaper

than the next guy.

The environment at Celera
was extremely intense,

and it reminded me
of finals week at Cal Tech.

And there's a tradition
at Cal Tech

that on the very first day
of finals week,

the "Ride of the Valkyries"
is played at full blast.

And so I thought,

"Since every week feels
like it's finals week here,

why don't I play the 'Ride'
and see what happens?"

So we got a whole bunch
of Viking hats

and we end up buying Nerf bows,

okay, because we're
Nordic Valkyrians.

So the next week,
we're shooting each other.

And we go, "You know, there's
something not right about this."

So we decided the next week
that we'd do raiding parties

and raid some
of the other teams.

Unbeknownst to us, they had been
preparing themselves.

Hey, you guys go
to the back stairs.

They had little
beanie hats, okay,

and their own Nerf weapons.

Then the war started.

It's just a release.

It's a way of kind of
dealing with the pressure,

I think.

We all ran around like crazy
for five or ten minutes

and, you know, got a little
physical exercise.

And, uh, had a few laughs,

and then we're ready
to really go after it.

Man:
Ooh!

The Wagner seems to be working;

output at Celera continues
at a relentless pace.

If you're still
having problems,
call us back, okay?

Venter insists
that the urgency stems not only

from a desire to beat
the government project,

but the firm belief that what's
coming out of these machines...

All the "A"s and "C"s and "T"s
and "G"s...

Will have a profound impact
on all our lives.

It's a new beginning in science,

and until we get all that data,
that can't really take place.

Anybody that has cancer,

anybody that has a family member
with a serious disease,

this data and information offers
them tremendous hope

that things could change
in the future.

In the past, if you wanted
to explain diabetes,

you always had to scratch
your head and say,

"Well, it might be
something else

we've never seen before."

But knowing that you've got

the full parts list

radically changes
biomedical research,

because you can't wave
your hands

and say,
"It might be something else."

There is no something else.

One, two, three, four,
five Cs in a row.

In the past,

finding the genes
that cause a disease

was a painstakingly
slow process,

but with the completion
of a list,

it should be much easier
to make a direct connection

from disease to gene.

But how?

Well, let's say I'm looking for
a gene that causes something...

We'll make it
male pattern baldness.

How would I go about that?

Well, I'd want to get
a bunch of bald guys...

So here are three bald guys...

And take their blood
and look at their DNA.

Now, I'll take three guys
with lots of hair

and here is their DNA.

And what if the bald guys all
share a particular spelling

right here, in this spot, which
we will call "the bald spot."

And at the same spot, you notice
the hairy guys have...

See that?
A different spelling.

So is this the gene
that causes baldness?

Maybe, but probably not.

This could be a coincidence.

So how do I improve
my chances of finding

the specific spelling difference
that relates to baldness?

It would help if I knew

that the bald guys and the hairy
guys had really similar DNA

except for the genes I suspect
may make them bald or hairy.

Where do I find guys
who are very, very similar

with, you know,
a few exceptions?

A family, right?

If there were brothers
and fathers and sons

and cousins, for instance,
who share lots of genes.

So let's say these three guys
are brothers...

Astonishing similarity,
really, in the face.

But notice that one of them
is hairy and two are bald.

Whatever is making this one
different should stand out

when you compare their genes.

And the same for these guys.

There's a difference clearly
in the photos,

but that difference may turn up
in the genes.

You could do the same thing
for any disease you like.

So if I could comb
through the DNA

of lots of people
who are related

and I find some of them are sick
and some of them are healthy,

I might have a better chance

of figuring out
which genes are involved.

But where do I do this?

Well, one place is

a little island nation
in the North Atlantic...

Iceland.

In many ways, Iceland is
the perfect place

to look for genes
that cause diseases.

It's got a tiny population...
Only about 280,000 people...

And virtually all of them
are descended

from the original settlers...

Vikings who came here
over a thousand years ago.

If you drive around
this country,

you will have great difficulties
finding any evidence

of the dynamic culture

that was here
for all these 1,100 years.

There are no great buildings,
there are no monuments.

But one thing Iceland does have
is a fantastic written history,

including almost
everybody's family tree.

And now it's all
in a giant database.

Just punch in
a social security number

and there they are...
All your ancestors,

right back
to the original Viking.

So what we have here is
my ancestor tree.

I'm here at the bottom.

This is my father and mother,

my grandparents,
great-grandparents and so on.

We can find an individual

that was one of the original
settlers of Iceland.

Here we have Ketill Bjarnarson

called "Ketill 'flatnefur, '"
meaning he had a flat nose.

So he may have broken it
in a fight or something.

And we estimate that he was born
around the year 805.

Kari Stefansson is
a Harvard-trained scientist

who saw the potential gold mine

that might be hidden
in Iceland's genetic history.

He set up a company
called deCODE Genetics

to combine age-old family trees

with state-of-the-art DNA
analysis and computer technology

and systematically hunt down
the genes that cause disease.

Our idea was to try
to bring together as much data

on health care as possible,

as much data on genetics
as possible, and the genealogy,

and simply use
the informatics tools

to help us to discover
new knowledge

discovering new ways
to diagnosis, treat

and prevent diseases.

One of deCODE's first projects

was to look for the genes
that might cause osteoarthritis.

Regnheidir Magnusdottir had
the debilitating disease

most of her life.

The first symptoms appeared
when I was 12,

and by the age of 14,
my knees hurt very badly.

No one really paid
any attention;

that's just the way it was.

But by the age of 39, I'd had
enough, so I went to a doctor.

Mrs. Magnusdottir was
never alone in her suffering.

She is one of 17 children.

11 of them were so stricken
with arthritis,

they had to have
their hips replaced.

This was exactly
the kind of family

that deCODE was looking for.

They got Mrs. Magnusdottir
and other members of her family

to donate blood samples
for DNA analysis.

And to find more
of her relatives...

People she'd never met...

DeCODE just entered
her social security number

into their giant database,
and there they were.

But which of these people
have arthritis?

To find out, Stefansson asked
the government of Iceland

to give his company
exclusive access

to the entire country's
medical records.

In exchange, deCODE would pay
a million dollars a year

plus a share of any profits.

That way, deCODE could link
everything in their computers:

DNA, health records
and family trees.

This idea was probably
more debated

than any other issue
in the history of the republic.

On the eve of the
parliamentary vote on the bill,

there was an opinion poll taken

which showed that 75% of those
who took a stand on the issue

supported the passage
of the bill;

25% were against it.

Among that 25% against the plan
were most of Iceland's doctors.

I felt that there was something
fundamentally wrong

in all of this, you know.

They do know everything
about you,

not only about your
medical history,

about your medical past,

but they now do have your gene,
the DNA.

They know about your future,
about, uh...

something about your children,
about your relatives.

We find ourselves paralyzed,

because there is really
nothing we can do,

because the one who takes
the responsibility

is the management
of the health center.

If they give away
this information

from the medical records,
they get money.

And everybody needs money.

Healthcare really needs money.

So what's really
the problem here?

Let's take
a hypothetical example...

I'm going to make all this up.

Let's pretend these are medical
records of an average person.

And we'll suppose that
right here I see an HIV test.

And then over here
is medication for anxiety

after what appears to be
a messy divorce.

And over here, a parent
who died of Alzheimer's.

This is all stuff
that could happen to anybody,

but do you want it all
in some central computer bank?

And do you want it linked
in the same computer

to all your relatives

and to your own personal
DNA profile?

And should anybody have
the right

to go on a fishing expedition
through your medical history

and your DNA?

Well, it may be frightening,
but it also might work.

DeCODE claims it has discovered
several genes

that may contribute
to osteoarthritis.

So this approach... combining
family trees, medical records

and DNA... could lead
to better drugs

or to cures for a whole range
of diseases.

To have all of the data
in one place

so you can use the modern
informatics equipment

to juxtapose
the bits and pieces of data

and look for the best fit

is absolutely fascinating
possibility.

Stefansson says
no one's forced to do this

and there are elaborate privacy
protections in place...

No names are used, social
security numbers are encoded.

He also argues that the DNA part
of the database is voluntary.

The healthcare database
only contains

healthcare information.

We can cross-reference it
with DNA information,

but only from those individuals

who have been willing
to give us blood,

allowing us to isolate DNA,
genotype it,

and cross-reference it
with the database...

Only from those who have
deliberately taken that risk.

So it's not imposed on anyone.

And no one
who is scared of it...

no one who is
really afraid of it

should come and give us blood.

DNA databases are popping up
all over the world,

including the U.S.

They all have rules
for protecting privacy,

but they still make ethicists
nervous.

I like to use the analogy
of the DNA molecule

to a future diary.

There's a lot of information
in a DNA molecule.

The reason I call it
a diary, a future diary,

is because I think
it's that private.

I don't think anybody
should be able

to open up your future diary
except you.

One rather bleak vision

of where all this could lead

is presented in
the Hollywood film Gattaca.

This is a world
where everybody's DNA...

Everybody's future diary...
Is an open book.

Everyone who can afford to has
their children made to spec.

But what happens
to the poor slob

who was conceived
the old-fashioned way?

I'll never understand
what possessed my mother

to put her faith in God's hands

rather than those
of her local geneticist.

Ten fingers, ten toes...
That's all that used to matter.

Not now.

Now, only seconds old, the
exact time and cause of my death

was already known.

Neurological condition:
60% probability;

attention
deficit disorder:
89% probability;

heart disorder...

99% probability;

life expectancy:
30.2 years.

30.2 years.

The nurse seems
to know precisely

what's going to happen
to this baby,

which is ridiculous, right?

Or is it possible that one day
we will be able to look

with disturbing clarity
into our future...

Ten, 20, even 70 years ahead?

That is one possible future
where this becomes so routine

that at birth
everybody gets a profile

that goes right
to their medical record,

one copy goes to the FBI, so
we have an identification system

for all possible crimes
in the United States.

One copy goes where?

To your... to the grade school,
to the high school,

to the college, to the employer,
to the military

like a horrific future.

Although I have to say, there
are many in the biotech industry

and the medical profession who
think that's a terrific future.

In fact, a lot of the technology
already exists, now, today.

These guys in the funny suits
are making gene chips.

The little needles are dropping

tiny, nearly invisible bits
of DNA onto glass slides.

And where did the DNA come from?

From babies, thousands of them.

Each chip can support
80,000 different DNA tests.

So a single chip, in principle,
will allow you

to test, say, a thousand babies
for 80 different human diseases.

So within a few minutes,
you can have a readout

for thousands, or even
tens of thousands of babies

in a single experiment.

Already, babies are
routinely tested

for a handful of diseases.

But with gene chips,

everybody could be tested
for hundreds of conditions.

Knowing is great.

Knowing early is even better.

And that's really what
the technology allows us to do.

Well, taking a test
and knowing is great...

For the baby, anybody, really...

As long as there's something
you can do about it.

But think about this,

because sometimes
there may be a test,

but it might take 20 years
or 50 years... 50 years...

To find a cure.

So you could take the test,

and you could learn that there
is a disease coming your way,

but you can't do
a thing about it.

Do you still want to know?

Or you could take the test,

but the test won't say
you're going to get the disease;

it'll simply say
that you may get a disease

and, as you know,

there's a big difference between
"you will" and "you may."

I mean, it just
now feels like...

Lissa Kapust and Lori Siegel
are sisters who shared

the wrenching experience
of cancer in the family.

Way back, there
were three sisters.

And then in 1979, the youngest
of the three, Melanie,

was diagnosed
with ovarian cancer.

When my sister was diagnosed,
my response was disbelief.

She was 30 years old.

And I'd never known anybody of
that age to have ovarian cancer.

Melanie fought her cancer for
four years, but died in 1983.

It seemed an isolated piece
of bad luck.

But then,
just about a year later,

Lissa discovered
she had breast cancer.

She was only 34.

But the cancer hadn't spread,

so the long-term outlook
seemed optimistic.

I actually had
a radiation therapist

who was tops in the field,

wrote many books
on breast cancer

and was very optimistic.

And what I remember him
saying is

that he and I would
grow old together.

And Lissa was fine...
for 12 years.

And then she found another lump
in the same breast.

It was the worst fear come true.

The first time,
I could hold on to hope.

The second time,

nobody was talking with me
about living to be old.

When Lissa discovered
her second cancer in 1996,

scientists were just beginning
to work out the link

between breast and ovarian
cancers that run in families.

Mary-Claire King was
one of the scientists

who discovered that changes...
Or mutations...

In two specific genes

make a woman's risk of breast
and ovarian cancer much higher.

The genes are called
BRCA 1 and 2.

BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are perfectly
healthy, normal genes

that all of us have,

but in a few families, mutations
in these genes are inherited.

So in a normal gene...

See, we're going to spell it out
for you here letter by letter...

This is the normal sequence
ending G-T-A-G-C-A-G-T.

Now we're going to make a copy.

Now we're going to lose
two of the letters...

Just two... and then, see,
watch them shift over.

You see that?

This new configuration
is a mutation

which can often
cause breast cancer.

In the United States
and Western Europe and Canada,

the risk of developing
breast cancer

for women in the population
as a whole

is about ten percent
over the course of her lifetime

with, of course,

most of that risk
occurring later in her life.

For a woman with a mutation
in BRCA 1 or BRCA 2,

the lifetime risk
of breast cancer is about 80%.

It's very high.

Right around the time of Lissa's
second bout of breast cancer,

a test for BRCA mutations
became available.

Lissa and her sister Lori
decided to be tested.

I do remember the day that I
went to find out the results...

panic, terror.

I mean, what was I going
to find out?

Talking about, you know,

the blood surging
through your temples,

I mean, I just remember
sheer terror.

Turns out Lori was fine.

But Lissa discovered that
she does carry a BRCA mutation.

It is not easy
waking up every morning,

wondering if today's the day
you may get sick.

Any questions about the results

from the biopsy from April?

No questions about the results.

Again, it feels like often
my life is dodging bullets.

With the second cancer,

Lissa had her right breast
completely removed

and then another operation
to take out her ovaries.

Okay, just keep a tight fist

until I'm in.

She also has a high risk
of cancer in her left breast.

BRCA mutations are
relatively rare and only cause

maybe five or ten percent
of all breast cancer.

But knowing that there's
a BRCA mutation in the family

affects everybody.

The gene doesn't go away.

The time past
since the last cancer

doesn't buy you the safety.

And the consequences run
through the family.

I suppose that for my daughter,

who yet has not shown any
significant impact of this,

uh... the knowledge that
there's a genetic component

that she can't deny will,
I'm sure,

color her life in serious ways.

Lissa's son Justin is 21.

Her daughter Alanna is 18.

There is a 50/50 chance

that each of them has inherited
the BRCA mutation from Lissa.

The only way to know
would be to take a test.

And when should they do that?

When is the right time?

I actually never really
thought about it,

until biology this year

when my teacher posed

a hypothetical, supposedly,
question to people

saying, "What would you do?

"Can you imagine
what you would do

"if you were faced
with the situation

"where you knew that you
might have this disease

"that would be deadly,
or it would cause you to be sick

"and you could do a test,

that you could find out
whether or not you had it?"

And I was sitting there in class

saying, "Maybe it's not
so hypothetical."

And then in her senior year
of high school,

Alanna felt a lump
in her own breast.

I did have the whole,

"Oh, it can't be happening
to me, not yet," kind of thing.

I mean, I have the reservation
in the back of my mind

that eventually it may
very well happen to me,

and if it does, I'll fight it
then, I'll deal with it then.

But I don't expect,
or I definitely didn't expect

for this to be happening to me
when I was 17 years old.

Alanna's lump was not cancer.

And for now,
she does not want the test,

because if she knew
she had the bad gene,

she'd only have two options...

The choice of removing
her breasts and ovaries

to try to reduce her risk,

or just be closely monitored
and wait.

She's followed every year.

Seems a little young
to, you know,

have her to have to face that.

On the other hand, it also feels

like the belt-and-suspenders
technique

and we just have to do
everything we can do.

In the next 20 years,

this family's predicament will
become more and more common

as more and more genes are
linked to more and more diseases

and more tests become available.

But we will all have to ask,
do we want to know?

And when we know,

can we live with an answer
that says maybe, but maybe not?

Driving home from work today,
I was tuned into public radio

and there was a professor
of astronomy

talking about
a brand-new telescope

to look into the galaxies.

And they're calling it

the equivalent of
the Human Genome Project.

And I was thinking,

hmm, not quite the equivalent
of the Human Genome Project,

because it's without some
of the ethical, moral, angst,

real-people issues

where it's a bit
of a roller coaster ride

between, you know, this is going
to hold answers and hope

and treatments and
interventions and cure

versus... it's not clear
what this all means.

And if things aren't clear now,
what about the future

when we may not only cure
disease, but do so much more?

Your extracted eggs, Marie,

have been fertilized
with Antonio's sperm.

You have specified
hazel eyes, dark hair

and fair skin.

All that remains is to select
the most compatible candidate.

I have taken the liberty
of eradicating

any potentially
prejudicial conditions...

Premature baldness

myopia, alcoholism

obesity, et cetera.

We didn't want...

I mean diseases, yes, but...

Right, we were just wondering

if it's good
to leave a few
things to chance.

You want to give your child
the best possible start.

And keep in mind

this child is still you...

Simply the best of you.

You could conceive naturally
a thousand times

and never get such a result.

Gattaca really raised
some interesting points.

The technology that's
being described there
is in fact

right in front of us
or almost in front of us.

That seems to me to be almost
extremely likely to happen,

because what parent wouldn't
want to introduce a child

that wouldn't have...

at least be where all
the other kids could be?

That's why the
scenario is chilling.

It portrayed a society

where genetic determinism
had basically run wild.

I think society in general

has smiled upon
the use of genetics

for preventing
terrible diseases.

But when you begin
to blur that boundary

of making your kids
genetically different

in a way that enhances
their performance in some way,

that starts to make
most of us uneasy.

What if we lived in the world
of Star Trek: Voyager?

Talk about uneasy.

Computer, access
B'Elanna Torres' medical file.

Lieutenant Torres is
50% human and 50% Klingon.

Project a holographic
image of the baby.

She's also 100% pregnant.

Now extrapolate what the child's
facial features will look like

at 12 years old.

Like any caring parent,

she doesn't want her
unborn child to be teased

for having a forehead that
looks like... a tire tread.

Display the fetus genome.

Here's the twist...

Delete the following
gene sequences.

She can do something about it.

Extrapolate what the
child would look like

with those genetic changes.

Hmm, she threw in
some blonde hair, too.

And is this the limit,
or could we go even further?

Save changes.

If you can eventually isolate
all these things,

can you then build a creature
that has never existed before?

For example,
I would like
the eyesight

of a hawk, and I'd like
the hearing of a dog.

Otherwise, I'm quite content

exactly as I am.

So, could I pluck

the eyesight and the hearing

and patch it in?

Well, we don't know.

We really don't know
how that engineering occurs

and how we can improve on it.

It would be very much like

getting a whole pile of parts
to a Boeing 777

and a whole pile of parts
to an Airbus

and saying, "Well, I'm going
to mix and match some of these

"so it will have
some of the properties.

"I'll make it a little fatter,

but I also want
to make it a little shorter."

And by the time you were done,

you'd think you'd made
lots of clever improvements,

but the thing
wouldn't get
off the ground.

It's a complex machine

and going in with a monkey
wrench to change a piece...

Odds are, most changes
we would make today...

almost all the changes we'd make
today would break the machine.

We may not be able
to genetically modify humans

or Klingons yet,

but we do do it to plants
and animals every day.

Look at this stuff...

Tobacco plants
with a gene from a firefly.

And they used that same insect
gene to create glowing mice.

So, it's theoretically possible

that we could create humans
with other advantages

that borrowed
from other creatures.

That's right.

But the humility of science
right now is

to appreciate how little we know

about how you
could even begin
to go about that.

That is the difference

between 20th-century
and 21st-century biology

is it's now our job
in this century

to figure out
how the parts fit together.

And just as the 20th century
was winding down,

the race to finish the genome
was reaching full throttle.

The competitive juices
were flowing.

I am competitive,

but when the social order
doesn't allow you

to make progress,
and it doesn't for most people,

I said "To hell
with the social order.

I'll find a new way to do it."

They changed
the paradigm on people

and people don't like that.

It was very offensive
to these people...

"How dare they, you know,
rain on our parade?

This is our turf."

This was a challenge

to the whole idea
of public generation of data.

That's what offended people,
was that we really felt deeply

that these were data that had
to be available for everybody,

and there was an attempt
to claim the public imagination

for the proposition

that these data were better done
in some private fashion

and owned.

You want to say,
"Well, wait a minute."

"If you could do it
in two years,

"why weren't you doing it
in two years?

"Why did we have to come along

to turn a 15-year project
into a two-year project?"

I must say the Human
Genome Project had

a tremendous amount
of internal competition

even amongst
the academic groups.

There's competition amongst
academic scientists, to be sure,

and more than anything, there's
competition against disease.

There is a strong sense that
what we're trying to find out is

the most important information
that you could possibly get.

I don't know.

I mean, I hope
this will all go away.

In June of 2000,
it kind of did go away.

The contentious race to finish
the genome came to an end.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the President
of the United States.

And the winner was...

well, you probably heard;
they decided to call it a tie.

I think both Craig and I
were really tired

of the way in which the
representations had played out

and wanted to see that
sort of put behind us.

It was probably not good
for Celera as a business

to have this image of being

sort of always in contention
with the public project.

It certainly wasn't good
for the public project

to be seen as battling with
a private sector enterprise.

So Dr. Collins, please come up.

President Clinton himself

got the public guys
and the Celera guys

to play nice, shake hands

and share the credit
for sequencing the genome.

Nearly two centuries ago,
in this room, on this floor,

Thomas Jefferson
and a trusted aide

spread out a magnificent map.

The aide was Merriwether Lewis,

and the map was the product
of his courageous expedition

across the American frontier
all the way to the Pacific.

Today the world is joining us
here in the East Room

to behold a map
of even greater significance.

We are here to celebrate
the completion

of the first survey
of the entire human genome.

Without a doubt, this
is the most important,

most wondrous map
ever produced by humankind.

And this map the president
is talking about...

What does it look like?

When we look across
the landscape of our DNA

for the 30,000 genes
that make up a human being,

what do we see?

The genome is very lumpy.

Very... lumpy?

Very lumpy, very uneven.

You might think,
if we have 30,000 genes,

they're kind of
distributed uniformly

across the chromosomes.

Not so.

They're distributed like people
are distributed in America:

they're all bunched up
in some places,

and then you have vast plains

that don't have
a lot of people in them.

It's like that with the genes.

There are really
gene-dense regions

that might have 15 times
the density of genes,

sort of New York City over here.

And there are other regions that
might go for two million letters

and there's not a gene
to be found in there.

The remarkable thing
about our genome is

how little gene there is in it.

We have three billion
letters of DNA,

but only 1, 1.5% of it is gene.

One and a half percent?

The rest of it,
99% of it, is stuff.

Stuff.

This is a technical term?

More than half of your total DNA
is not really yours.

It consists of
selfish DNA elements

that somehow got
into our genomes

about a billion and a half
years ago

and have been hopping around
making copies of themselves.

To those selfish DNA elements,
we're merely a host for them.

They view the human being...

Wait, wait, wait.

As a vehicle
for transmitting
themselves.

We have, in each and
every one of our cells

that carry DNA, we
have these little...

they're not beings;

they're just
hitchhiking hitchhikers.

Hitchhiking chunks of DNA.

And they've been
in us for how long?

About a billion
and a half years or so.

And all they've done
as far as you can say is

stay there and multiply.

Well, they move around.

And what is that?

What do you call that?

It's not an animal.

It's not a vegetable.

It's just...

It's a gene that knows
how to look out for itself

and nothing else.

And it's just riding around
in us, through time.

The majority of our genome
is this stuff, not us.

Wow.

It is a little humbling to think
that we, the paragon of animals,

the architects
of great civilizations,

are used as taxicabs by
a bunch of freeloading parasites

who could care less about us.

But that's the mystery
of it all.

You come away
from reading the genome

recognizing that
we are so similar

to every other living thing
on this planet.

And every innovation in us,
we didn't really invent it.

These were all things inherited
from our ancestors.

This gives you a tremendous
respect for life.

It gives you respect
for the complexity of life,

the innovation of life,

and the tremendous connectivity
amongst all life on the planet.

We are, in a very real sense,
ordinary creatures.

Our parts are interchangeable
with all the other animals

and even the plants around us.

And yet we know that
there's something about us

that is truly extraordinary.

What it is, we don't know.

But what it does is it lets us
ask questions and investigate

and contemplate the messages

buried in a molecule shaped
like a twisted staircase.

That's what we...
And maybe we alone... can do.

We can wonder.

This program raises
many difficult questions

and we do want to know
what you think,

so please log onto NOVA's
Web site and take our survey.

Also you can see how scientists
pinpoint a gene,

or America Online keyword: PBS.

To order this show or
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call WGBH Boston Video
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By inserting just one gene

our food can grow bigger

resist disease,
and feed the world.

This is a mass
genetic experiment

that's going on in our diet.

"Harvest of Fear"

a NOVA FRONTLINE special report.

NOVA is a production
of WGBH Boston.

Major funding for NOVA is
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