BETHESDA, MD.—Behind the scenes of the Human Genome Project—the 15-year, $3 billion effort to decipher our genetic makeup—researchers are working on a different sort of code. In a high-rise tower on the campus of the National Institutes of Health, a small group of programmers and molecular biologists are designing the computer framework for the genetic catalog of human-kind—an electronic database that will someday contain the information that biologically defines a human being.

The labors of a generation of genetic researchers will be chronicled in these computer files as an immense series of numbers representing the 3 billion individual base pairs of the genome. Faced with the challenge of producing a database that will be as functional in the next century as it is today, the NIH group has borrowed techniques from fields as diverse as artificial intelligence and advanced mathematics. And to speed access to the information, they are experimenting...

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