Timeline: History of genomics

A timeline depicting the key events in the history of genomics and genetic research alongside those in popular culture. From the discovery of DNA, and the election of Roosevelt, right through to whole genome sequencing and Andy Murray winning Wimbledon for the first time.

  • 1871

  • Friedrich Miescher publishes his paper identifying the presence of ‘nuclein’ (now known as DNA) and associated proteins, in the cell nucleus. 

    Friedrich Miescher
  • First international rugby union match played between England and Scotland.

  • 1904

  • Walter Sutton and Theodor Boveri propose the chromosome theory of heredity after finding that chromosomes occur in matched pairs, one inherited from the mother and one from the father.

  • Theodore Roosevelt is elected President of the USA. 

  • 1910

  • Albrecht Kossel is awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the five nucleotide bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine and uracil.

    Albrecht Kossel
  • The first horror movie is shown, a version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

  • 1950

  • Erwin Chargaff works out the pairing pattern of the bases A, C, G and T. He finds that concentrations of thymine and adenine, and cytosine and guanine, are always found in equal amounts in samples of DNA. This suggested that A always pairs with T and C always pairs with G.

  • North Korea forces invade South Korea triggering the Korean War.
  • 1952

  • The Hershey-Chase experiments are carried out by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase to demonstrate that DNA, rather than protein, carries our genetic information. 

  • Mother Theresa opens a home for the dying and destitute in Calcutta. 
  • 1953

  • James Watson and Francis Crick, with contributions from Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, discover the double helix structure of DNA.

    James Watson and Francis Crick
  • The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II takes place at Westminster Abbey in London. 
  • 1961

  • Marshall Nirenberg, Har Gobind Khorana and colleagues, crack the ‘code for life’. They identify how the letters in DNA are read in blocks of three called a “codon”. Each codon specifies an amino acid which is added to the protein during synthesis. 

  • John F. Kennedy becomes President of the USA.
  • 1968

  • Marshall Nirenberg, Har Gobind Khorana and Robert Holley share the 1968 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for Nirenberg and Khorana’s work cracking the genetic code, and Holley’s work sequencing the first tRNA molecule.

  • American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis.
  • 1977

  • Frederick Sanger develops a DNA sequencing technique which he and his team use to sequence the first full genome – that of a virus called phiX174.

    Fred Sanger
  • American rock singer Elvis Presley dies. 
  • 1980

  • Fred Sanger shares the Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Wally Gilbert and Paul Berg, for pioneering DNA sequencing methods.

  • British singer and songwriter John Lennon is shot dead in New York.
  • 1983

  • The location of the gene responsible for Huntington’s disease is identified by James Gusella and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital, USA.

  • The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is developed – a technique used for amplifying DNA  – by Dr Kary Mullis at the Cetus Corporation in California, USA. PCR
  • Seatbelt use for drivers and front seat passengers becomes compulsory in the UK. 

  • 1985

  • Alec Jeffreys develops a method for DNA profiling. A DNA profile is produced by counting the number of short repeating sequences of DNA sequence found at ten specific regions of the genome.

    Alec Jeffreys
  • At the age of 17, Boris Becker becomes the youngest-ever winner of the men's singles title at Wimbledon. 
  • 1990

  • Human Genome Project is launched. The project aims to sequence all 3 billion letters of a human genome in 15 years.

  • Nelson Mandela is released from prison in South Africa.
  • 1992

  • American and British teams of scientists reveal technique for testing embryos, while still in the womb, for genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and haemophilia.

  • Euro Disney opens near Paris in France.
  • 1993

  • The Sanger Centre near Cambridge is opened by Fred Sanger.

    Sanger site
  • The film Jurassic Park is a box office hit across the world.
  • 1995

  • The first bacterium genome sequence is completed (Haemophilus influenza).

    Haemophilus influenzae
  • Tom Hanks wins the Oscar for best actor for the film Forrest Gump.
  • 1996

  • An international team complete sequencing the genome of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

  • The first cloned animal, Dolly the Sheep, is born at the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh.Dolly the Sheep
  • Rapper Tupac Shakur is shot dead in Las Vegas.

  • 1998

  • John Sulston (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge) and Bob Waterston (Washington University, St. Louis) publish the genome of the nematode worm, C. elegans

    C. elegans
  • Search engine Google is founded.
  • 1999

  • Chromosome 22 is the first human chromosome to be sequenced as part of the Human Genome Project.

  • Ensembl genome browser launched.Ensembl
  • The Euro is introduced as a currency in Europe.
  • 2000

  • The full genome sequence of the model organism Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) is completed.

  • University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) launches the UCSC Genome Browser. 
  • The Summer Olympics are held in Sydney, Australia.
  • 2001

  • First draft of the human genome sequence released.

  • Al-Qaeda terrorists attack the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York.
  • 2002

  • The mouse is the first mammal to have its full genome sequence completed. The project is carried out by the International Mouse Genome Sequencing Consortium. The mouse genome is 14 per cent smaller than the human genome, but over 95 per cent of the mouse genome is similar to ours.

  • The International HapMap Project is launched, which aims to produce a ‘catalogue’ of common human genetic variations and where they are found in the genome. 

  • The genome of the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which causes malaria in humans, is completed.Mosquito
  • Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, dies aged 101 years.
  • 2003

  • Human Genome Project is completed and confirms humans have approximately 20,000–25,000 genes. The human genome is sequenced to 99.99 per cent accuracy, 2 years ahead of schedule. 

    DNA sequence
  • The ENCODE project is launched by the National Human Genome Research Institute and aims to identify and characterise all the genes in the human genome.
  • Saddam Hussein, former President of Iraq, is captured by American troops in a small town 140 km northwest of Baghdad.
  • 2004

  • The ‘high-quality’ draft of the rat genome is published. The genome is smaller than the human genome but larger than the mouse genome.

  • The first same-sex marriage in the USA is performed in Massachusetts.
  • 2005

  • HapMap (Map of Human Genetic Variation) report published in Nature.

  • The chimpanzee genome is completed.

  • Hurricane Katrina strikes the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastal areas in the USA.
  • 2007

  • A new DNA sequencing technology is introduced that increases DNA sequencing output 70 fold, in one year!

  • Apple introduces the iPhone.
  • 2008

  • 1,000 Genomes Project launched – the first project that aims to sequence the whole genomes of a large number of people (2,500).

  • Next-generation sequencing platforms result in dramatic drop in sequencing costs.Illumina
  • Barack Obama is elected as first black president of the USA. 
  • 2009

  • The first comprehensive analysis of cancer genomes is published, including lung cancer and malignant melanoma.

  • A US Airways flight safely makes an emergency landing on the Hudson River shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
  • 2010

  • Wellcome Trust launches UK10K which aims to compare the genomes of 4,000 healthy people with those of 6,000 people living with a disease of suspected genetic cause.

  • 1,000 Genomes Project publishes pilot paper in Nature.
  • Neanderthal genome published in Nature.Wikimedia Commons
  • A magnitude 7 earthquake hits Haiti and devastates the country.
  • 2012

  • ENCODE study publishes 30 research papers describing the active regions of the human genome including confirmation that the human genome contains 20,687 protein-coding genes.

  • Cruise ship Costa Concordia runs aground at Isola de Giglio, Italy.
  • 2013

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules that naturally occurring DNA cannot be patented. 

  • The Zebrafish genome is completed.Zebrafish
  • Andy Murray becomes the first British tennis player since 1936 to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon.
  • 2018

  • The 100K genomes project is completed, sequencing 100,000 genomes from patients affected by a rare disease or cancer. 

  • Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are married at Windsor Castle.
  • 2020

  • Following the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is sequenced.

  • Jo Biden wins the US presidential election. 


This page was last updated on 2021-07-21