Page URL:

DNA pioneer's genetic make-up published

21 April 2008
Appeared in BioNews 454

James Watson, one of the scientists who reported the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, has now had his own genetic make-up completely decoded. A paper published in the journal Nature last week describes the sequencing of Watson's genome to reveal the precise order of all its six billion DNA 'letters'. The project, carried out by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and US company 454 Life Sciences, marks a step towards personal genomics - the routine use of whole genome information in healthcare.

The reference human genome sequence, published in 2003 by an international publicly-funded consortium, took several years to complete and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But the development of cheaper, faster DNA sequencing technologies - such as that pioneered by 454 Life Sciences - is steadily bringing down the cost of decoding entire genomes. Watson's genome cost about £500,000 to complete, but 454 founder Jonathon Rothberg told the Sunday Times newspaper that the price has now dropped to £100,000, adding 'I'm confident it will have fallen to £1000 within six years'.

However, while sequencing entire genomes is now relatively straightforward, making sense of the information they contain remains a significant challenge. Watson's genome contains about 3,300,000 SNPs - single 'letter' changes in the DNA sequence. Around 82 per cent of these have already been reported, suggesting that the majority of common genetic differences between people are now known. But the effect of most of these genetic variants on a person's health - if any - remains a mystery.

In an article accompanying the publication in Nature, US geneticist Maynard Olson comments that the 'thin clinical value' of Watson's genome 'may cause some investors in the new sequencing methods to take pause', adding 'the major capital investments required to commercialise these technologies have been motivated more by their perceived medical potential than by research applications'. He concludes that the symbolic significance of the paper describing Watson's genome is 'greater than its immediate contributions to human biology'.

The only other person so far to have their whole genetic make-up decoded is J. Craig Venter, the head of US company Celera, which led the rival private effort to sequence the human genome. Venter's genome, pieced together using the 'whole genome shotgun' method previously used Celera, was published in the open access journal PloS Biology in September 2007.

How James Watson's DNA could save your life
The Sunday Times |  20 April 2008
Human genetics: Dr Watson's base pairs
Nature |  17 April 2008
8 December 2014 - by Ari Haque 
James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix structure, has auctioned off his gold Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery for over £3 million....
30 July 2012 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
A US company has taken up the challenge to sequence 100 genomes in 30 days...
11 May 2012 - by Heidi Colleran 
'Don't use autobiography to justify past actions or motivations', says James Watson, famed for his part in the discovery of the structure of DNA, in the book he wrote about his life as a scientist...
18 January 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
India has sequenced its first full human genome becoming the sixth country to do so, according to the Indian Government. The genome of a 52-year-old man from Jharkhand, eastern India, was reportedly sequenced by a top Indian science research body at a cost of $30,000. The breakthrough will help pharmaceutical companies develop drugs better suited to Indian physiology, according to India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)....
24 November 2008 - by Ailsa Stevens 
Scientists have for the first time sequenced the complete diploid genomes of an Asian and an African. It is hoped that the research, published in the journal Nature, will help to shed light on how people from different ethnic backgrounds respond to medicine and help to explain...
10 September 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The scientist who lead the private effort to sequence the human genome has revealed his own complete genetic make-up. The unveiling of J. Craig Venter's genome in the open access journal PloS Biology marks the first time that the complete DNA sequence of an individual has...
30 May 2007 - by Danielle Hamm 
There are fears that 'personal genomics' will develop as a tool for the rich and famous, rather than for the benefit of humanity at large, according to a news article in the journal Nature. At a recent scientific meeting, 454 Life Sciences, a US based sequencing technology...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.