Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has been a key site in the development of genome research. In a speech at CSHL in 1985, Renato Dulbecco proposed that research on cancer would be greatly advanced if the complete genetic information of a human being was available. He followed up on this with an opinion piece in Science, which marked the first occasion that the idea of a human genome project received wide publicity.
James D. Watson, then director of CSHL, was involved in the early discussions of the feasibility of a human genome project, notably in the discussions of the National Research Council and the Office of Technology Assessment. Watson was a tireless advocate for the project at a time when there was considerable opposition from scientists worried about its impact on funding for other research.
As part of his advocacy, Watson devoted a session at the 1986 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology, The Molecular Biology of Homo sapiens, to a discussion of the HGP. It was on this historic occasion that Walter Gilbert made the calculation that the project would cost $3 billion, an unheard of sum of money for a biology project.
In 1989, Watson was asked to take on the task of establishing the project, and the official start of the HGP was declared in 1990. Watson remained director until 1992, by which time the work was well under way.
The first of the Genome Mapping & Sequencing meetings was held at CSHL in 1988, organized by Charles Cantor, Maynard Olson, and Richard Roberts. These meetings rapidly became the annual focus for genome scientists. The first meeting had 96 abstracts; the 2010 meeting had 351. Now called the Biology of Genomes, it remains the preeminent meeting in the genomics world.
CSHL's Lita Annenberg Hazen Genome Center was one of 20 members of the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium.
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was a 13-year international effort to discover all the 20,000 to 25,000 human genes, determine the sequence of the 3 billion DNA subunits contained in the human chromosomes, and make this information available for further study. Beginning with the US DOE and NIH/NHGRI, government agencies played a major role in the HGP. Universities, research institutes, and corporations also played major roles. The HGP has contributed to improving human health by enabling a better understanding of the molecular basis of cancer and other diseases, which in turn has led to the development of new therapies and diagnostic methods. A study released in 2011 by Battelle shows that the HGP also had huge and far-reaching economic impacts.
Our project is to identify materials worldwide that underlie the origins and development of the Human Genome Project (HGP), describe and catalog them, and locate them virtually in one place via an open access data repository. The creation of such an accessible catalog of the HGP will lay the foundation for future historical and social sciences research on this scientific, biomedical, and social milestone.
The materials described and cataloged in the repository will be of interest to historians and social scientists studying the scientific, economic, sociological, psychological, and ethical impact of the HGP. They will use the materials for a variety of purposes: historical and scholarly research, teaching guides, documentaries, exhibits, and presentations. Thus the data repository will be an important tool allowing the creation of scholarly, educational, and popular works that will help future generations understand the far-reaching changes that occurred, and how the HGP came to transform society.
See also Human Genome Archive Project.