Illustrations of heads showing surprise and aversion. Holograph manuscript by Louis Charles d'Ourches Bigarures. Credit: Wellcome Library, London
The first draft of the human genome, announced jointly by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton on 26 June 2000, was heralded by the press as a massive scientific breakthrough, the applications of which would improve health and extend life. Scientists have indeed come far from Crick and Watson’s discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, and although some applications, like the targeted treatment of cancer, are beginning to appear, progress has been much slower than expected and such fruits are yet to be fully enjoyed.
Wellcome Library has a range of items relating to the Human Genome Project, an international collaborative effort to which Wellcome Trust contributed a third of the sequence through The Sanger Institute. The Library holds several publications supposing what we might learn from the Human Genome Project, including a 1993 book by Tom Wilkie entitled “Perilous knowledge: the human genome project and its implications” looks at the potential social consequences of knowing the code of life. A videorecording held in our Moving Image and Sound Collection asks “The human genome project: can we now play god?”.
The video features Sir John Sulston, who was head of the Sanger Institute until 2002. Wellcome Images has recently acquired some new portraits of Sulston, taken at Sanger, which is set in an award-winning Wetlands site at Hinxton. Wellcome Images has a further record of the sequencing work carried out at Sanger, some photos of which have recently been used in Nature’s Human Genome Project iPad app.
On the theme of genetics, Wellcome Library is beginning to digitise and make available online the Crick and Sir Fred Sanger archives, plus 1400 books as part of a larger project called ‘Modern Genetics and its Foundations’.
While we continue to debate what the deciphering of the human genome means for medicine and society, the Wellcome Library will carry on collecting a wealth of information on this important topic for many anniversaries to come.
Image shown: DNA sequencing for the Human Genome Project at the Sanger Centre.
Authors: Louise Crane and Julia Nurse
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