"One doesn’t want to get carried away, but I have to say I’m pretty carried away." That’s how Francis Collins, who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute, expressed his exuberance over the decoding of the human genetic package, comparing its sequencing to the work of Darwin, Mendel, and Watson and Crick. Two scientific consortia, one public, one private, announced their distinctive but convergent findings early in February. The expected economic, ethical, philosophical, theological questions along with further scientific ones have yet to be fully formulated. In the lacunae between Dr. Collins’s exuberance and the drear examination of the consequences, we thought there might be room for a few expansive, even poetic, thoughts on the discoveries that
-we humans have somewhere between 27,000 and 37,000 genes, rounded off in the headlines at 30,000;
-there is relatively little difference between our numbers and those of the mouse, the orangutan, or the fruit fly;
-some 75 percent of the genome is "junk" (described by science writer, Natalie Angier, as "the apparent product of a typing pool of drunken baboons"-are they, we wonder, the same typing pool trying to write Shakespeare?);
-the genetic differences between man and mouse being so small may leave a little room for nurture and culture-or at least more room than mice have.