About the Sulston Zone

The Genome Futures event gets local school students talking with Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute scientists. Why is this zone named the Sulston Zone, and why is it relevant to the Sanger Institute?

John Sulston was the first Director of the Sanger Centre, now known as the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. He led the Institute from 1992 to 2000 when the Sanger Institute formed the British arm of the Human Genome Project. This was an international project involving 20 centres from six different countries with the common goal to sequence the first human genome. The Sanger Institute sequenced one third of the human genome – the largest individual contributor to the project. The Human Genome Project provided its research data for free and without restriction so that all scientists could access and analyse the genetic information. This was championed by Sulston and this policy of data sharing is still upheld by the Sanger Institute today.

When the first draft sequence of the human genome was published in 2000 Sulston was listed among the UK’s 100 most powerful people by The Observer newspaper.  Sulston stepped down as Director in September 2000 and was knighted in 2001 for services to genome research. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for his work to understand the development of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (that’s the worm in the photo!).

This was research he carried out before his involvement in the Human Genome Project. This worm is used by researchers to look at development because it is transparent and has a simple nervous system. It is also easy to breed and store. You can freeze and thaw them without damaging them.

Sulston is now Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation (iSEI) in Manchester. This institute carries out research into the social and ethical impacts of science and technology on the real world.