2003: Human Genome Project completion

Nominated by: Voisin Consulting Life Sciences

Launched in 1990, the Human Genome project was an unprecedented international scientific research project with the primary goal to discover the complete set of human genes and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome.

It was the world’s largest collaborative project, with global contributions, multiple funding sources and dedicated research centres in the US, UK, Japan, China, Germany and France.

A key driver of the HGP was the requirement of all data to be publicly available to ensure unrestricted access for scientists.

The project remarkably determined that the human genome is nearly identical between any two individuals and a single nucleotide change can be responsible for causing human disease, contributing to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying a multitude of human diseases and focused our understanding of proteomics.

The project was declared complete in 2003, however gaps remained, which were filled in subsequent years, with the latest publication in 2021 from the Telomere to Telomere consortium establishing an almost complete human genome.

It was the world’s most significant project within biotechnology and was driven in part through competition with a private sequencing initiative from US company Celera, which intended to patent a number of genes and would not allow free use or distribution of genome data.   The speed of Human Genome Project was driven by the need to publish findings into the public domain before the Celera initiative was able to protect and restrict access through its own results.

The impact of the HGP on biotechnology cannot be over-estimated.  It has shaped our understanding of human genetics and disease, impacting public policy, research and medicines development and marked the dawn of ‘big data’ as a central pilar of biotechnology advances world-wide. It also marked the huge achievements possible through collaborative science. Finally, it revolutionised the technologies used in genetic sequencing, with first generation capability rapidly accelerating to enable faster, cheaper and more accessible sequencing to an everyday research tool. It is debatable that none of the advances that biotechnology yields today would be possible without the Human Genome Project.



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