The Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics, and the Human Genome

Front Cover
National Academies Press, Nov 17, 2002 - Science - 328 pages

The world was agog when scientists made the astounding announcement that they had successfully sequenced the human genome. Few contributed so directly to this feat as John Sulston. This is his personal account of one of the largest international scientific operations ever undertaken.

It was a momentous occasion when British scientist John Sulston embarked on the greatest scientific endeavor of our times: the sequencing of the Human Genome. In The Common Thread, Sulston takes us behind the scenes for an in-depth look at the controversial story behind the headlines. The accomplishments and the setbacks‚€"along with the politics, personalities, and ethics‚€"that shaped the research are frankly explored by a central figure key to the project.

From the beginning, Sulston fervently proclaimed his belief in the free and open exchange of the scientific information that would emerge from the project. Guided by these principles, The Human Genome Project was structured so that all the findings were public, encouraging an unparalleled international collaboration among scientists and researchers.

Then, in May 1998, Craig Venter announced that he was quitting the Human Genome Project‚€"with plans to head up a commercial venture launched to bring out the complete sequence three years hence, but marketed in a proprietary database. Venter‚€™s intentions, clearly anathema to Sulston and the global network of scientists working on the Project, marked the beginning of a dramatic struggle to keep the human genome in the public domain.

More than the story of human health versus corporate wealth, this is an exploration of the very nature of a scientific quest for discovery. Infused with Sulston‚€™s own enthusiasm and excitement, the tale unfolds to reveal the scientists who painstakingly turn the key that will unlock the riddle of the human genome. We are privy to the joy and exuberance of success as well as the stark disappointments posed by inevitable failures. It is truly a wild and wonderful ride.

The Common Thread is at once a compelling history and an impassioned call for ethical responsibility in scientific research. As the boundaries between science and big business increasingly blur, and researchers race to patent medical discoveries, the international community needs to find a common protocol for the protection of the wider human interest. This extraordinary enterprise is a glimpse of our shared human heritage, offering hope for future research and a fresh outlook on our understanding of ourselves.

What people are saying - Write a review

The common thread: a story of science, politics, ethics, and the human genome

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

The highly publicized events leading up to the 2001 publication of the Human Genome draft sequences in Nature (the public sequence) and Science (Celera's private, i.e., patented, sequence) form the ... Read full review

About the author (2002)

John Edward Sulston was born in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire, England on March 27, 1942. He received a bachelor's degree in natural sciences in 1963 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1966 from Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge. He was the founding director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, where he studied genes in worms. He was knighted in 2001. He along with Sydney Brenner and H. Robert Horvitz received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for the good data they amassed on the tiny transparent roundworm C. elegans in an effort to better understand how organisms develop. He and Georgina Ferry wrote The Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics, and the Human Genome, which was published in 2002. He took a position at the University of Manchester, where he was chairman of the Institute of Science, Ethics and Innovation. He retired in 2016. He died of stomach cancer on March 6, 2018 at the age of 75.

Bibliographic information