When techniques for sequencing segments of DNA became available, it seemed self-evident that the most valuable material to analyze was the regions that could be associated with a function or a disease. More than 95 percent of the human genome did not seem interesting to explore in detail because it does not code for the kinds of functions that we can recognize, and so it is temporarily called "junk." A few years ago, however, it was proposed that systematic sequencing of the entire human genome was now feasible and should be regarded as a major challenge.

This human genome program had an unusual origin. It was not initiated by a committee of molecular geneticists dealing with a pressing need, or by the major biomedical funding agency, the National Institutes of Health. Instead, it was advanced by an administrator in the Department of Energy, convinced that with the powerful tools of...

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