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Great Scientists

John Sulston

1942 -

John Sulston

John Sulston, born 1942, is an English biologist and geneticist, most well-known for the first animal genome sequencing (nematode), and winning the race to sequence the human genome, ensuring it would remain a public property legacy.

  • Nationality
  • English

  • Subject
  • Biology, genetics

  • Fields
  • cell lineage, nematode genome, human genome

  • Distinctions
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2002 (shared with Sydney Brenner and Robert Horvitz), for his research into the identification of genes that control apoptosis, the death of cells.

    Knighthood in 2001

    Beadle Award (2000)

    Gairdner Award (2002)

  • Posts
  • Director of the Sanger Centre, Cambridgeshire, England.

    Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation (University of Manchester), Chair, 2014 -

  • Publications
  • 1983 paper: desscribing the analyse and description of the total cell lineage of the nematode, the first organism for which the origin of every cell is known.

    The Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics, and the Human Genome (2002). Written with Georgina Ferry, an autobiography relating his research career leading to the human genome sequencing.

  • Theories
  • Identification of the precise order of division of cells

  • Equations
  • Sulston Score: numerical assessment of likelihood that two DNA clones is the result of chance

  • Experiments/Discoveries
  • Genome sequencing of nematode (first complete mapping of an animal genome), proving that it was possible. This triggered the race to sequence the human genome.

    The Human Genome Project: successful sequencing of human genome (completed in 2003)

    Apoptosis: programmed cell death in multicullular organisms.

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2002 (shared with Sydney Brenner and Robert Horvitz), for his research into the identification of genes that control apoptosis, the death of cells.

After his pioneering work in genome sequencing of the nematode worm, which was the first complete mapping of an animal genome, proving that it was possible, Sulston entered the race to sequence the human genome, as a central figure of the Human Genome Project. And he won, publishing the full human genome in 2003, beating a commercial enterprise, and ensuring that human genes and genomes would never be the properties of private companies.

John Sulston is an active supporter of the British Humanist Association, and signed the Humanist Manifesto in 2003 (22 Nobel Laureates).