Origins of the human genome project

James Dewey Watson, Robert Mullan Cook-Deegan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


The Human Genome Project has become a reality. Building on a debate that dates back to 1985, several genome projects are now in full stride around the world, and more are likely to form in the next several years. Italy began its genome program in 1987, and the United Kingdom and U.S.S.R in 1988. The European communities mounted several genome projects on yeast, bacteria, Drosophila, and Arabidospis tbaliana (a rapidly growing plant with a small genome) in 1988, and in 1990 commenced a new 2-year program on the human genome. In the United States, we have completed the first year of operation of the National Center for Human Genome Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), now the largest single funding source for genome research in the world. There have been dedicated budgets focused on genome-scale research at NIH, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for several years, and results are beginning to accumulate. There were three annual meetings on genome mapping and sequencing at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, in the spring of 1988, 1989, and 1990; the talks have shifted from a discussion about how to approach problems to presenting results from experiments already performed. We have finally begun to work rather than merely talk. The purpose of genome projects is to assemble data on the structure of DNA in human chromosomes and those of other organisms. A second goal is to develop new technologies to perform mapping and sequencing. There have been impressive technical advances in the past 5 years since the debate about the human genome project began. We are on the verge of beginning pilot projects to test several approaches to sequencing long stretches of DNA, using both automation and manual methods. Ordered sets of yeast artificial chromosome and cosmid clones have been assembled to span more than 2 million base pairs of several human chromosomes, and a region of 10 million base pairs has been assembled for Caenorhabditis elegans by a collaboration between Washington University and the Medical Research Council laboratory in Cambridge, U.K. This project is now turning to sequencing C. elegans DNA as a logical extension of this work. These are but the first fruits of the genome project. There is much more to come.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-11
Number of pages4
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • DOE
  • Gene mapping
  • Human genome organization
  • NIH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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