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Gene sequence patents


The first Human Genome Group
Aaron Klug Scientist
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I think this is what persuaded them, and the... and so they set up, they decided to set up, to put money... but not into the worm, that was an MRC project, but into the human genome. So we started the first human genome group, practical one, and the arrangement was that it was called an MRC... MRC Wellcome... later the name got changed, because it was clear that Wellcome became the senior partner. What the lab supplied was the... [John] Sulston left the lab with four others, including Bart Barrell, Richard Durbin, Roger Stalen and people like that, and went to... he looked for a home and eventually the home was found at Hauxston. We look around Cambridge for some time. There was an old laboratory, GKN had been there and there were buildings that were going defunct, and they built new buildings. And things got... things were quite difficult because Dai Rees and Bridget Ogilvy didn't get on, because Dai Rees acted as a kind of... he didn't actually patronise, but the MRC had been doing things for 80 years, and Wellcome were new boys to the whole thing, and she bristled at this, you see, they really had technology transfer. So I had to be somewhat diplomatic about all this, and I had to meet with people from the Wellcome Trust and try to piece over this... the two Directors argued with each other because the question is, when you had... spend money... but in the end, it was sorted out, and the other thing was about the Wellcome Trust being a charity. You see, they are not allowed to make money, so I said, 'That's not right.' You're not allowed to invest in things to make money, but if you invest... if you back research, and money can be made from it, surely you should get the money back to the charity, then you can use it for the purposes of... this was some sort of new idea to them, you see, because I'd had that experience with the MRC, and so I was pretty heavily involved in all this. This was in the... by now, this was well into the nineties, and so things began to be clear.

Now, John Sulston says he only did the human in order to do the nematode, but what it meant was that the people who are going to do the human genome were trained on the nematode, and they recruited people and it turned that John Sulston was a marvellous organiser. He set up working groups, he planned it all, he was really... this was an unknown talent, because before he had worked on a small scale, first all alone, and then just two people, with a small number of people, and here there were several hundred in the end. So it became clear that Wellcome were the major... major runners in all this.

[Q] This was with the Sanger Centre?

And they decided to... they wanted their name, they wanted Wellcome MRC rather than an MRC Wellcome. Look, they had a... they had a... what's the word, a start, a leaping start, from our Lab, which in their writing they didn't always acknowledge when they opened the whole Sanger Centre. So they thought of a name and it wasn't the custom to name things after living people, it's not been the custom here, but that's changed over the years, so they asked Fred Sanger. Somebody thought of asking him, calling the Sanger Centre, because they were using all his sequencing methods, and that's how they got set up. And in the end, the Sanger Centre was responsible for doing one third of the human genome because by this time, Jim Watson had managed to, had managed to get NIH to set up a genome division in the NIH and they began supplying money for people to involve in the human genome project. And so that was the great adventure. But it all started here, and the... John Sulston eventually published the sequence of the nematode with the first complex organism to have its genome sequenced, so all the great hullabaloo in June 2000... Tony Blair and Bill Clinton appeared, and announced... I've forgotten it all actually, it was such a hullabaloo, a great step... a leap, a great leap for mankind which indeed it was. A lot of the public didn't understand it, and people who wrote about it didn't understand what it could do. They thought you would now be able to solve everything. They hadn't understood this was just a table of gene sequences. They didn't even know what most of the genes are. So after this great hullabaloo, we had to spend some time explaining this was only the beginning.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: Ken Holmes John Finch

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Tags: MRC Wellcome, Human Genome Group, John Sulston, Bart Barrell, Richard Durbin, Roger Stalen, Fred Sanger, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton

Duration: 5 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008