29th March 2000

Two-thirds of Human Genome Given to Researchers Worldwide

Cambridge scientists are celebrating a monumental milestone in the international Human Genome Project to decode the genetic instructions of humankind. The Sanger Centre team and their research colleagues from around the world have today announced that they have sequenced two billion 'letters' of human DNA. The sequence is deposited in public databases and is being used daily by researchers worldwide in the quest to understand human disease.

The two billionth 'letter', or base, was deposited by the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Centre. The base was a 'T', the abbreviation for thymine, one of the four bases that make up DNA. The 2,178,076,000 unique bases now in the public database have been mapped to their locations on the 23 pairs of human chromosomes. Human DNA contains about three billion bases.

The Sanger Centre is the major UK contribution to the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration between researchers in the US, Japan, France, Germany and China. The Wellcome Trust - the world's largest medical research charity - is funding the UK contribution to the Human Genome Project.

"Public access to the data is something that the consortium take very seriously. We make our data available on publicly accessible databases within 24 hours of the time that an assembly of 1000-2000 base pairs is obtained. Today's announcement means that there are now two billion base pairs of important sequence data in the public domain without fees, patents, licences or limitations on use," says Dr Michael Morgan, Chief Executive of the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus.

Dr John Sulston, Director of the Sanger Centre agreed, saying, "This tremendous achievement is a ringing endorsement of the faith expressed in the accord signed recently by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton on the value of the Human Genome Project. This sequence is already working hard to benefit humanity."

"It's good news that we're moving so fast but it's even better news that researchers throughout the world are using this data now to investigate the genetic underpinnings of health and diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to diabetes," said Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the US National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Research Institute.

There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human genome. Each chromosome consists of a single linear molecule of DNA, which carries a string of four chemical bases represented by the letters A (adenine), T(thymine), G (guanine) and C(cytosine). It is the order, or 'sequence', and context of these bases that determines how our bodies are made, and our predisposition to certain diseases. The Human Genome Project is firmly on course to produce the working draft for the entire human genome this spring with the UK team being responsible for sequencing one third of the genome.

"Today's announcement marks an important first in improving our knowledge of the DNA sequences that make us human - this is an exciting landmark that has far-reaching implications. It is a splendid achievement that will help doctors around the world in their quest to cure disease and advance knowledge. It will change the way in which diseases and other medical conditions are diagnosed and treated in future," says Dr Michael Morgan.

For further information contact:

Roberta Pearce/Ifeanyi Uwechue
Wellcome Trust Press Office
Tel: 0207 611 7328/8870
Fax: 0207 611 8416
Don Powell
Sanger Centre Press Office
Tel: 01223 494956
Fax: 01223 494714

Notes to editors:

  1. The publicly funded Human Genome Project consortium includes scientists at 16 institutions in France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain and the USA. Its principle funders are the Wellcome Trust in the UK and the US National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy.
  2. The Wellcome Trust is the world's largest medical research charity with an annual spend of some £600 million in the current financial year 1999/2000. The Wellcome Trust supports more than 3,000 researchers at 300 locations in 30 different countries - laying the foundations for the healthcare advances of the next century and helping to maintain the UK's reputation as one of the world's leading scientific nations.
  3. The Wellcome Trust ( www.wellcome.ac.uk) and the Sanger Centre ( www.sanger.ac.uk), one of the world's leading genome sequencing centres, have been at the forefront of efforts to keep the human sequence data in the public domain and to allow equal access by all to our common genetic heritage. The Trust believes that any attempts to patent this valuable research tool for commercial gain will hinder the development of future healthcare.

Contact the Press Office

Mark Thomson Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambs, CB10 1SA, UK

Tel +44 (0)1223 492 384
Mobile +44 (0)7753 775 397
Fax +44 (0)1223 494 919
Email press.office@sanger.ac.uk

* quick link - http://q.sanger.ac.uk/01q01hqt