The Common Thread

The Common Thread’s sub-title is: A story of science, politics, ethics and the human genome. This is an apt description of the book by John Sulston and Georgina Ferry.

The book is written from Sulston’s point of view and is a behind-the-scenes account of one of the greatest achievements in biology and possibly history–the sequencing of the human genome. I never realised the battle that took place between Celera Genomics, a private corporation, and the Human Genome Project (HGP) to sequence the human genome.

Craig Venter and Celera Genomics were unable to match the determination and the drive of the HGP’s team in spite of their advantage financially and scienfically. By scientifically, I mean that they had access to the HGP’s data, which was freely accessible, but the HGP team didn’t have access to their data.

Sulston and his teams’ efforts were to ensure that the sequence was accessible to everyone because then the whole human race would benefit. Celera’s motives were purely profit-based with an eye to controlling the potentially huge market. The book is an amazing story of triumph of a team of scientists battling the might of a corporation that used “clever” press releases to forward its cause.

Sulston’s frank, persuasive arguments come through in the book and even though he’s such an important figure you never get the feeling that he’s indulging in chest-thumping. If anything, the book shows his character and his integrity, and I have nothing but admiration for the man’s efforts.

Brilliant book and worth a read.

PS: An interesting profile from the Beeb (in 2000) about John Sulston.

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