Many diseases are the outcome of a complex inter-relationship between multiple genetic and environmental factors. Research suggests that individual susceptibility is influenced more by certain genes than by exposure to environmental agents. To better understand how individuals differ in their susceptibility to environmental agents and how these susceptibilities change over time, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) developed the Environmental Genome Project (EGP) in 1997. The long-term goal of the EGP is to characterize how specific human genetic variations, or polymorphisms, contribute to environmentally induced disease susceptibility.
The EGP identified a group of human genes that are likely to influence the outcome of environmental exposures. Polymorphic variants in these “environmentally responsive” genes are being identified by examining the sequence of DNA base pairs (sequencing) in a predefined set of human DNA samples representing the diversity of the United States. To determine which gene variants are correlated with increase or decreased risk of disease, researchers within the EGP have characterized the functional significance of specific gene variants. Due to the complexity of the research question, the EGP includes initiatives in four major research areas:
The information gathered in these four areas will help build an understanding of the complex interrelationships between environmental exposure, genetic susceptibility, and human disease.
Gwen Collman, Ph.D.