Every field in science has a day when the anticipation of a major announcement fills the air with a palpable energy. For those in the know, it’s the kind of optimistic excitement that makes the whole world delightful. Colors seem brighter, passersby seem kinder, and there’s a musicality to the normal bustle of life—all because after years of painstaking, unrecognized research, finally there are results to present that could change the world.
For genetics, one such day was 16 years ago. The Human Genome Project, an international initiative led by the US National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy to sequence the entire human genome, was nearly complete after 13 years, two years ahead of schedule (paywall) and under budget—a rarity in science.
It was April 15, 2003, and scientists thought that with this new map of each and every base pair of human DNA, they would be able to pinpoint the exact origin of medical conditions, physical traits, and even certain behavioral patterns. Health care providers could finally discard their “one-size-fits-all” approach and adopt personalized medicine, giving patients treatment or preventative measures as unique as their genomes.