Celera Group

The great DNA letdown

April 8, 2010: 10:28 AM ET

A decade ago, scientists promised a revolution in drug development as they mapped the human genome. What went wrong?

By David Ewing Duncan, contributor

This is science as a biopic: the stars are four regular guys named A, T, C, and G. Like the mop-top Beatles who came from Liverpool nearly 50 years ago, this Fab Four are the superstars of our era, which has been dubbed the Age of Genomics.

Since scientists announced the sequencing of nearly every A, T, C, and G in humans a decade ago, their influence has permeated movies, comics, books, newscasts, universities, lecture halls, and the blogosphere. Governments and life science companies large and small have lavished hundreds of billions of dollars on genetic research and development.

Thousands of scientists and hundreds of companies -- including many in the Fortune 500 -- still labor to tease out the secrets of these often elusive sequences of genetic code tucked inside of our cells, and how they impact disease, behavior, and life itself.

Fans of the Human Genome Project have compared it to the Apollo Program, and called it "the book of life." Not since Einstein's E = mc² had science been so sexy and exciting, with just a tinge of danger.

But 10 years later, the accomplishments, in terms of human health, have failed to live up to the hype, according to top scientists writing in Nature.

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