Timeline of human genome sequencing

Gregor Mendel


Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics publishes his research on experiments in plant hybridization

In his monastery garden, in period between 1856-1863, he performed crossing of pea plant varieties having different heights, colors, pod shapes, seed shapes. For example, when he crossed yellow peas with green peas, all the offspring peas were yellow. But when these offspring reproduced, the next generation was ¾ yellow and ¼ green. His work, published in 1865, showed that genes determine traits in predictable ways.

Friedrich Miescher


Friedrich Miescher discovers „nuclein“ from cell nuclei, DNA with its associated proteins

During his research on white blood cells, he succeeded in isolating a new molecule from the cells’ nuclei and he called it nuclein. Nuclein contained hydrogen, oxygen, and a unique ratio of phosphorus and nitrogen. Even though he spent his whole life studying nuclein, he and researchers of his time considered nuclein as the molecule by which traits passed from parents to children. The importance of DNA wasn’t discovered for many years.

Photograph 51


Rosalind Franklin created „Photograph 51“ and shows helical shape of DNA for the first time

Rosalind Franklin was born in London in 1920. After graduating from Cambridge University, she studied x-ray techniques in Paris. The year after her graduation, she moves to London and with Maurice Wilkins molecular biologist, uses X-ray crystallography to study DNA. Finally, using this technology, they create the first photography where the helical structure of DNA was clearly visible.

James Watson and Francis Crick


James Watson and Francis Crick identify the double helix structure of DNA

These two researchers modeled the structure of DNA, which is a double helix, with sugars and phosphates forming the outer strands of the helix, and the bases pointing into the center. Hydrogen bonds connect the bases, pairing A–T and C–G; and the two strands of the helix are parallel but oriented in opposite directions. Their notes show that this model “immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.”

Marshall Nirnberg


Marshall Nirnberg cracks the genetic code for protein synthesis

Identifying „UUU“ (three uracil bases in a row) as the RNA code for phenylalanine was the first breakthrough Nirnberg makes in 1961. In the following years, Nirnberg and his team decoded the 60 mRNA codons for all 20 amino acids. In 1968, Nirenberg shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to decoding the genetic code and understanding protein synthesis.

Frederick Sanger


Frederick Sanger succeeds in developing the rapid DNA sequencing technique

In order to determinate the order of bases in a strand of DNA, Frederick Sanger developed the classical “rapid DNA sequencing” technique , nowadays known as the Sanger method. For his contributions to DNA-sequencing methods, Frederick Sanger shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Huntingtons disease


Huntington’s disease – the first mapped genetic disease

This disease causes death of specific neurons in the brain, leading to jerky movements and dementia. Symptoms usually appear in midlife and worsen progressively. Location of the HD gene, whose mutation causes Huntington disease, was mapped to chromosome 4. This made this gene the first disease gene to be mapped. This gene was finally isolated in 1993.



Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology for amplifying DNA was invented

PCR is a pretty straight forward and low cost technology for amplifying or making billions of copies of a segment of DNA, and is considered as one of the greatest scientific advances in molecular biology. Today, this technology is used every day to diagnose diseases, identify bacteria, and viruses. As a proof of how much this technology revolutionized research of DNA is the fact that Dr. Kary Mullis was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993.



Cystic Fibrosis gene mutation discovered

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a life-threatening genetic disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract, pancreas, and other organs. In the early 1980’s, many laboratories tried to identify the gene that causes this disease. Finally, In June 1989, researchers identified a small DNA mutation in 70% of cystic fibrosis patients, while this mutation wasn’t found in healthy individuals. The discovery of the CFTR gene is the single most important discovery to date in research of Cystic fibrosis.



First evidence of BRCA1 gene existence

BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) is a gene which normally produces a protein that prevents cells from growing and dividing out of control. However, some variations of BRCA1 can disrupt its normal function, which can lead to increased hereditary risk for cancer. The gene was finally isolated in 1994. Today, researchers have identified more than 1,000 mutations of the BRCA1 gene.



The beginning of the Human Genome Project

In 1984, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and international groups held meetings about studying the human genome. Already in 1990 NIH and DOE published a plan for the first five years of an expected 15-year project. The goal of the project was to develop technologies for analyzing DNA, mapping and decoding human, as well as mice and fruit genomes.