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John Sulston and Georgina Ferry

The Common Thread

From 1993 to 2000 John Sulston was director of the Sanger centre, which played a major part in the sequencing of the human genome. In The Common Thread : A story of Science, Politics, Ethics and the Human Genome Sulston (with coauthor Georgina Ferry) tells his story.

Sulston explains how he spent many years studying the worm C Elegans - one cell at a time. With the advances in biotechnology he came to realise that sequencing its entire genome had become a possibility, and he was soon pursuing this goal. The worm led on to the Human Genome, and Sulston was chosen to set up and run the Sanger Centre.

Much of the book concerns the politics of getting funding for the sequencing of the genome, made more difficult by the fact that Craig Venter seemed to be doing the same thing more quickly and cheaply in a commercial context. Sulston argues that in fact the publicly funded version ended up as the reliable one. Venter tells his side of the story in his book A Life Decoded, where he claims his version was better. It's hard to be certain who is correct on this matter, but one can see Suslton's frustration when the work he had done and made available to all was being compared to what commercial companies were simply saying they had done.

In conclusion, I'd recommend this to all readers with an interest in the ethical issues of biotechnology and its commercialisation, as well as those who want to read the story of how a scientist, used to working in a small lab, dealt with the politics of 'big science'.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 320 pages  
ISBN: 0309084091
Salesrank: 907658
Weight:1.5 lbs
Published: 2002 Joseph Henry Press
Amazon price $19.34
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 320 pages  
ISBN: 0593048016
Salesrank: 1327631
Weight:1.28 lbs
Published: 2002 Bantam Press
Marketplace:New from £691.88:Used from £0.01
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 324 pages  
ISBN: 0309084091
Salesrank: 1850373
Weight:1.5 lbs
Published: 2002 National Academy Press (Trade)
Amazon price CDN$ 33.63
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 32.06:Used from CDN$ 2.37
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Product Description

The world was agog when scientists made the astounding announcement that they had successfully sequenced the human genome. Few contributed so directly to this feat as John Sulston. This is his personal account of one of the largest international scientific operations ever undertaken.

It was a momentous occasion when British scientist John Sulston embarked on the greatest scientific endeavor of our times: the sequencing of the Human Genome. In The Common Thread, Sulston takes us behind the scenes for an in-depth look at the controversial story behind the headlines. The accomplishments and the setbacksâ€"along with the politics, personalities, and ethicsâ€"that shaped the research are frankly explored by a central figure key to the project.

From the beginning, Sulston fervently proclaimed his belief in the free and open exchange of the scientific information that would emerge from the project. Guided by these principles, The Human Genome Project was structured so that all the findings were public, encouraging an unparalleled international collaboration among scientists and researchers.

Then, in May 1998, Craig Venter announced that he was quitting the Human Genome Projectâ€"with plans to head up a commercial venture launched to bring out the complete sequence three years hence, but marketed in a proprietary database. Venter’s intentions, clearly anathema to Sulston and the global network of scientists working on the Project, marked the beginning of a dramatic struggle to keep the human genome in the public domain.

More than the story of human health versus corporate wealth, this is an exploration of the very nature of a scientific quest for discovery. Infused with Sulston’s own enthusiasm and excitement, the tale unfolds to reveal the scientists who painstakingly turn the key that will unlock the riddle of the human genome. We are privy to the joy and exuberance of success as well as the stark disappointments posed by inevitable failures. It is truly a wild and wonderful ride.

The Common Thread is at once a compelling history and an impassioned call for ethical responsibility in scientific research. As the boundaries between science and big business increasingly blur, and researchers race to patent medical discoveries, the international community needs to find a common protocol for the protection of the wider human interest. This extraordinary enterprise is a glimpse of our shared human heritage, offering hope for future research and a fresh outlook on our understanding of ourselves.