Celebrating a 'decade of discovery' since the Human Genome Project

Leading scientists from the public efforts to map the human genome today celebrate a decade of discovery since the announcement of the first draft. And in a dramatic sign of the rapid progress being made, they launched the UK 10,000 Genomes Project.

On 26 June 2000, President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the completion of the first draft of the human genome at a joint press conference. The draft had taken ten years to complete, the result of collaboration from labs in China, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA.

Today, key players involved in the public side of the collaboration discussed the impact of the Human Genome Project at the launch of the Science Museum's 'Who am I?' gallery. They included Nobel laureate Sir John Sulston and Dr Francis S Collins, Director of the US National Institutes of Health, both of whom took part in the original announcement in 2000. Today they were joined by Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, and Professor Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Watch highlights of the press briefing in our video.

View this video on YouTube - Running time: 5 min 12 s

The Wellcome Trust funded one-third of the Project and was instrumental in ensuring that the data obtained were kept in the public domain. Its current Director, Sir Mark Walport, says:

"We have had an extraordinary decade of discovery since the completion of the draft sequence of the human genome. Almost every week scientists around the world make important discoveries of how variation in the human genome causes variation in health and disease. We have learnt much about human origins and migration - and about our close relationships to other species. But most of all we have learnt about the extraordinary complexity of the human body and about what makes us unique as individuals. The sequence of the human genome will continue to inspire scientists with ideas and questions for many years to come."

Sir John Sulston was Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute from 1992 to 2000 and led the UK's efforts in the Human Genome Project. He says:

"A key decision in the project, and one which has had a lasting legacy in science, was to release all data quickly as we went along. As a result not only the human genome but many other genomes as well are freely available in the public domain, facilitating comparison and analysis of these immensely complex pieces of information. The Human Genome Project is widely regarded as a model for open science."

Dr Francis S Collins, Director of the US National Institutes of Health and former leader of the US component of the Human Genome Project, says:

"The First Law of Technology states that truly transformational technology will have its immediate consequences overestimated and its long-term consequences underestimated. Reflecting back on the announcement of the draft sequence in 2000, I think that law is coming true for the Human Genome Project. After a decade of hard work in the basic science of genomics, the health benefits are beginning to arrive. When I look across medical research - whether it is for cancer or heart disease or diabetes - I see researchers using the expanding array of tools that have arisen from the Human Genome Project. The leading edge of advances in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment has arrived, though the full flowering of genomic medicine still lies ahead."

The UK 10,000 Genomes Project

Ten years on from the announcement of the first draft, Professor Mike Stratton, now Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, announced the launch of the UK 10,000 Genomes Project. Professor Stratton says:

"Over the past decade, we have found hundreds of common variants that each make a small difference to many diseases but we still have to explain much of the genetic basis of most diseases. One promising source of additional genetic contribution is in rarer variants which each confer greater risks of disease.

"It took 13 years to sequence the first genome. Now we sequence several human genomes every few days. The UK 10,000 Genomes Project will involve a collaboration with leading UK medical geneticists to sequence the genomes of ten thousand individuals in a search for these rarer variants and will take advantage of these technical advances to explore exhaustively this part of the genetic landscape and the contribution it makes to health and disease."

Science Museum asks 'Who am I?'

Opening to the public on 26 June 2010, the Science Museum's new ‘Who am I?’ gallery presents the latest brain science, genetics and genomics research through a mix of fascinating objects, hands-on multimedia exhibits and new contemporary artworks. Visitors to this fascinating exhibition will be able to explore the science of identity and find out what makes each of us unique. Entrance to 'Who am I?' is free.