Uncovering the history of dna sequencing

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By | From the Collections

The newly available collection of Carol Churcher’s papers (GRL/CHU) is a landmark for the Library’s Human Genome Archive Project.  At just two boxes the collection might seem insignificant, but clearly size isn’t everything. This collection represents more than the contents of its boxes.

Photograph of Carol Churcher

Carol Churcher. Image credit: Wellcome Library C0057975

Since the start of the project in January 2012 I have spoken to many scientists, bioinformaticians, scientific administrators and bioethicists about their records. I have zipped around the country to survey material housed in bedrooms and basements, in offices and outbuildings and in garages and greenhouses (it was actually a shed, but I liked the alliteration of greenhouses). Despite all of this behind-the scenes activity none of the material has so far been available to researchers. Until now. The Churcher collection is the first to be fully processed from start to finish.

The collection represents the documentation strategy approach that we have been applying for this project. Rather than simply focusing on the big names and the headline news, I have also been trying to capture material about the processes, equipment and techniques that contributed to the sequencing of the human genome. The Churcher collection contains material from early work using automated sequencing machines and the evolving protocols. This is a far cry from the media headlines generated by the Human Genome Project, but is important for our understanding of this groundbreaking scientific endeavour.

Automated dna sequencing output

Automated DNA sequencing output. WI no. B002672

Aficionados of the Wellcome Library’s cataloguing references will notice that this collection is the first to be catalogued in our new GRL sequence. This reference will be used for the personal papers of scientists who have spent a significant proportion of their careers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and for corporate records from the Sanger Institute that are deposited in the Wellcome Library. Why GRL? Genome Research Limited is the charity responsible for the Sanger Institute and it was suitably distinct from our existing references to prevent confusion.

Author: Jenny Shaw is Project Officer on the Human Genome Archive Project


Jenny Shaw

Jenny Shaw is Project Manager - Collecting Genomics at the Wellcome Library.

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