CHICAGO (AP) _ Researchers have developed a computer ''superchip'' they say will rapidly speed up deciphering of the human genetic code and could eventually help doctors treat congenital diseases before they develop.

Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago came up with the technology to produce the chip, unveiled Wednesday.

Argonne, whose work was paid for by the Energy Department, is one of 350 labs involved in the $3 billion Human Genome Project, a worldwide effort to locate and describe the function of each of the 100,000 genes found in a human cell.

With the new technology, that process could be completed several years ahead of the 2005 target date at a cost of only $300 million, one-tenth of the projected cost, said Radoje Drmanac, a researcher at Hyseq Inc.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., biotechnology company has the patent to make the computer chip.

Genes are the basic unit of heredity, and each one contains a specific sequence of DNA that determines a human's individual characteristics.

Hyseq expects to have ''sequenced,'' or identified the specific order of the DNA within each of 15,000 genes, by 1997. In the last 20 years, only 5,000 genes have been sequenced worldwide, Hyseq said.

Argonne's agreement with Hyseq ''marks a major milestone for commercial applications of the Human Genome Project that will have far-reaching impact on human and veterinary medicine, as well as agriculture,'' Harvey Drucker, Argonne's associate laboratory director, said at a news conference.

Gene sequencing enables scientists to study a gene's function and develop treatments for diseases linked to flawed genes, such as some birth defects and cancer. Scientists believe they will someday be able to replace a faulty gene with a healthy one.

Gene sequencing also could help increase productivity and disease resistance in plants and animals.

The 1-inch-square computer chip will be capable of decoding the chemical sequence of hundreds of genes at once.