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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 14:37 GMT
British scientists lead gene research
Sir John Sulston
Scientists aim to decipher the human genetic code
British scientists continue to be at the forefront of the international efforts to unlock the human genetic code.

The latest findings of a decade of study by researchers from across the globe will be published this week in the journals Nature and Science.

They are based on the first, major analysis of the "rough draft" or "first assembly" of the human genetic code announced by US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair last June.

And nowhere is there greater pride than at the Sanger Centre near Cambridge, where eight of the 23 pairs of human chromosomes - 1, 6, 9, 10, 13, 20, 22 and X - have been sequenced.

This work, although not yet complete, is already helping to unravel what lies behind illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease.

Breakthrough a 'beginning'

Scientists have found that human beings have many fewer genes than they thought, around 30,000.


Britain can be proud of the scientists at the Sanger Centre that have worked on, and will continue to work on, the Human Genome Project

Sir John Sulston
Sir John Sulston, former director of the Sanger Centre, told the BBC: "I think this is very significant as a beginning."

Sir John predicted that in the next 10-20 years there would be further remarkable research results, including more effective treatments for cancer and possibly cures for some hereditary diseases.

"Britain can be proud of the scientists at the Sanger Centre that have worked on, and will continue to work on, the Human Genome Project," he said.

Record of achievement

The British contribution has been highly praised by Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Minister for Science. He said: "The Human Genome Project is one of the great all-time achievements of UK science.

The Sanger Centre, Cambridge BBC
Eight of the 24 human chromosomes have been sequenced at the Sanger Centre
"It builds on the government's commitment to strong science in the UK and we are delighted with the further demonstration of its excellence."

Two years ago, the Wellcome Trust medical research charity, which funds the Sanger Centre, decided to release 48m of earmarked funding early to increase the speed of its contribution to the Human Genome Project.

Dr Michael Dexter, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said the genome sequence would become one of the most valuable maps in the history of humankind. However, the full promise of the genome sequence would not become apparent for several decades, he said.

Strict controls

"Maps are a timeless resource - you don't have to visit every part of them at once for them to be of value.


The Human Genome Project is one of the great all-time achievements of UK science

Lord Sainsbury of Turville
"It's worth knowing that Oxford is south of Birmingham and west of London, even if you don't plan to visit any of the places tomorrow. The same is true of the Human Genome Project - it will guide researchers for centuries, even if every inch isn't explored or used tomorrow."

The debate goes on about the legal and ethical repercussions of the scientific research. Sir John Sulston said on Sunday that he supported the idea that scientific research should be subject to strict controls.

He said: "Let the scientists discover. That is what we are good at, that's our job. Then we give the results to the public, to us all to discuss what should be done with them."


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08 Dec 00 | Science/Nature
05 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
16 Mar 99 | Science/Nature
11 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
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