The first sequence of an animal genome is essentially complete

Funded by the Medical Research Council and America's National Institutes of Health, the Sanger Centre and the Genome Sequencing Centre at St Louis have completed a 15-year project to sequence the complete genome of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

The first sequence of an animal genome is essentially complete

Funded by the Medical Research Council and America's National Institutes of Health, the Sanger Centre and the Genome Sequencing Centre at St Louis have completed a 15-year project to sequence the complete genome of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

Containing less than a thousand cells and 1mm in length, C.elegans seems very different from us but is actually built using remarkably similar principles. Like us it develops from embryo to adult, has a gut, nerves, muscles, skin, and around 40 per cent of its genes are closely related to ours.

By comparing worm and human sequence, it is possible to identify the related genes, and can then use the worm to examine their function. From these studies conclusions can be drawn about genetic causes of disease and disorders.

This completed gene sequence gives scientists and health practitioners world-wide valuable information to aid the study of the human body in health as well as in illness and may for example lead to new treatments for disease.

The press conference was held at the Royal Society.

"This is an exciting day for British science. The first complete genomic sequence of a complex organism - an animal, with which the human body can be compared, promises to open a new chapter in the understanding of human health and disease."

Professor George Radda, MRC Chief Executive

"The completion of this project is a terrific scientific achievement. Not only is it an example of international partnership and co-operation with strong British involvement, but a world scientific first - the first multicellular animal to be completely sequenced. This research will ultimately contribute towards interpretation of other genomes, including the human, and help to ensure that we revolutionise healthcare."

Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science

Notes to Editors

Notes

The MRC total spend on this project has been some £16m pounds over 15 years. Similar sums have been committed to the project by the National Institutes of Health in the USA. The US team was led by Dr Bob Waterston at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis.

Dr John Sulston is Director of the Sanger Centre a world leading genome research centre based at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Cambridgeshire. The Sanger Centre is the largest contributor to the Human Genome Project. It aims to complete the sequence of one-third of the human genome by 2003. The Centre is also sequencing a number of pathogens. The genome for tuberculosis was completed last December.

A proposal to investigate the genetics of the nematode worm on a large scale was first made by Sydney Brenner at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1963 and Dr John Sulston was part of his original research team. The C.elegans genome project remained there until 1993; subsequently, the Sanger Centre at Hinxton was developed specifically to house this and other large-scale genome projects. A team at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology led by Dr Jonathan Hodgkin continues to work on the biology of C. elegans.

The C. elegans papers appear in a special edition of Science, published 11th December 1998.

Contact the Press Office

Emily Mobley, Media Manager

Tel +44 (0)1223 496 851

Dr Samantha Wynne, Media Officer

Tel +44 (0)1223 492 368

Dr Matthew Midgley, Media Officer

Tel +44 (0)1223 494 856

Wellcome Sanger Institute,
Hinxton,
Cambridgeshire,
CB10 1SA,
UK

Mobile +44 (0) 7748 379849

Recent News

Uncovering the pathway to colon cancer
Scientists identify patterns of genetic changes in healthy colon tissue, giving insight into the very earliest stages of cancer
Accumulation of DNA mutations found in healthy liver leads to disease
Largest study of its kind seeks to better understand how liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma develop
Resurrection of over 50,000-year-old gene reveals how malaria parasite jumped from gorillas to humans
Discovery of molecular pathway is valuable example of how a pathogen can switch from one host species to another