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In February of 1953, Francis Crick and I proclaimed to the patrons of the Eagle pub in Cambridge that we had discovered “the secret of life”—how the structure of DNA carries genetic information. But I don’t think that Francis and I could realize then that just 50 years on, the complete sequence of the three billion base pairs of the human genome would be deciphered and the molecular basis of what it is to be human would be revealed.

Certainly, Fred Sanger’s development of the dideoxy chain-termination method of sequencing in 1977 was a critical step in moving us closer to this goal, and so his important achievement marks the starting point for the resources concerning the complex history, science, economics, and politics of the Human Genome Project contained in this extensive guide. Ending with the announcement of the completed human genome sequence in 2003, The Human Genome Project: An Annotated & Scholarly Guide to the Project in the United States constitutes an indispensable research tool for scientific investigators, historians of medicine and the life sciences, as well as bioethicists and public health officials worldwide.  

My directorship of the National Center for Human Genome Research from 1989 through 1992 was a period in which technologies and bioinformatics approaches were being developed, the U.S. Congress was brought on board with funding, and attention was paid to the social, economic, and moral implications of knowing the sequence of the human genome. Thus, I am very pleased to see documented here the wealth of progress and information, as well as the large number of researchers and organizations involved in this enormous effort, from that nascent period for the Human Genome Project through the completion of the project.

Implicit in the information presented here are the future benefits of knowing the structural and functional details of the human genome. Already there are companies that offer consumer genome analysis, and new technologies have made the $1000 genome a reality, with personalized medicine on the near horizon. The journey of research developments and the resources compiled in this guide will most certainly spur further progress and so fulfill the Human Genome Project’s promise to provide the understanding and effective treatment of the diseases that plague the human condition.


Dr. James D. Watson