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John Sulston: archives

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About this work


This collection contains the working papers of John Sulston, including laboratory notebooks, mapping and sequencing data, journal article manuscripts, conference papers, correspondence, managerial papers and press cuttings. They relate to his work undertaken at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and later the Sanger Centre.

The papers cover Sulston's extensive research on the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, from studying the ventral cord to recording the cell lineage and then mapping and sequencing its genome with Alan Coulson and Robert (Bob) Waterston. The papers also cover Sulston's tenure as Director of the Sanger Centre, his involvement in the international Human Genome Project and work undertaken after stepping down as Director.

Original file titles have been retained where they exist.



Physical description

139 boxes, 2 outsize boxes, 19 outsize folders


The files have been arranged into the following three sections to best reflect how they were created and used:

Section A: C. elegans Work

Section B: Human Genome Work

Section C: Bioethics Advocacy and Engagement Work

Biographical note

John Edward Sulston was born in 1942 and educated at Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood. He read Organic Chemistry at Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating in 1963. He subsequently worked as a research student under Colin Reese in the Department of Chemistry. After finishing his PhD in 1966 Sulston worked at the Salk Institute for Biological Science in California. He returned to Cambridge in 1969 to work with Sydney Brenner at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LBM). Here he contributed to Brenner's work in researching the genetic inheritance of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). Sulston began by studying the development of neurons in the ventral cord, before working with Robert Horvitz to determine and record the cell lineage of the entire adult worm, followed by the embryonic worm. In 1983 Sulston began working with Alan Coulson to map the C. elegans genome and the pair later collaborated closely with Robert (Bob) Waterston at the University of Washington in the United States of America. The map was finished in 1989, at which point Sulston and Waterston's research groups moved on to jointly sequence the C. elegans genome. This was achieved through funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health. The finished sequence was published in 1998, making C. elegans the first animal to have its entire genome sequenced.

Sulston became the first Director of the Sanger Centre (now the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) in 1992, where he led British participation in the international Human Genome Project, which aimed to sequence the human genome. Throughout the project he championed open data and the public release of sequence data as it was generated. He strongly opposed the idea of patenting the genome sequence, arguing that it would prohibit future research. Sulston stepped down as Director of the Sanger Centre in 2000 after the working draft of the human genome sequence was published. The following year he received a knighthood for services to genome research and he shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sydney Brenner and Robert Horvitz for his C. elegans work. In 2002 Sulston, together with Georgina Ferry published The Common Thread (Bantam, 2002), his personal account of the Human Genome Project.

Sulston has since continued to play an active role in the scientific community, serving on the Human Genetics Commission and the Royal Society People and the Planet Working Group. In 2007 he took up the position of Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester.

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