Dr. Francis Collins is the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. He obtained a PhD in physical chemistry and a medical degree specializing in internal medicine. Dr. Collins pursued further research and studies in human genetics at Yale University. This academic blend has enabled him to become a pre-eminent researcher in the field of molecular genetics. He has developed new techniques in the field of DNA research which have become standard tools in the discipline. Dr. Collins has been at the forefront of genetic research into identifying genes for Cystic Fibrosis, neurofiromatosis and Huntington disease.
What is the Human Genome Project? It is an ambitious undertaking on an international level to decipher the hereditary instructions that make each human unique. In order to read this “instruction book of life” which determines our physical makeup, it is necessary to find the location of the approximately thirty thousand human genes.
Every cell in our body contains a nucleus with 23 pairs of chromosomes. These chromosomes carry the cell’s genetic information, thereby forming the individual’s particular molecular code. This blueprint contains all the coded instructions for building and operating the physical aspects of a fully functioning human. Chromosomes consist primarily of long chains of a chemical called DNA. Our entire genetic script is made up of over three billion bits of information, biochemical letters strung end to end. If you were to print them in books and stack them up, they would be about as high as a five story apartment building.
The Genome Project aims to decode the entire human DNA by the year 2003. As well as gene mapping, the project develops new tools and techniques, trains scientists and considers the ethical, legal and social implications of the findings for public policy consideration. Their overarching goal is to improve human health.
Dr. Francis Collins has worked with a large international team for 10 years on this effort to decode the human genome. Of special interest is Dr. Collins’ strong Christian commitment. Although growing up in a church-going family, Dr. Collins was quite boldly atheistic while a young adult. Personal reflection on issues of faith, significantly aided by the writings of C. S. Lewis, brought him to the point of conviction of the truthfulness of Christian truth claims. He states that his Christian commitment is “the most important organizing principle in my life”