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Genome: Where were you ten years ago?

Fergus Walsh | 14:10 UK time, Friday, 25 June 2010

One of the side-effects of being on TV is that people can watch you getting older. This is starkly illustrated whenever I order up a report from years gone by and look at my old "pieces to camera". Fewer grey hairs, a weird quiff, Paisley ties and sometimes a gruesome pair of specs stare out at me. My apologies for the fashion errors of the past and, indeed, for those of the present.

Fergus WalshIn preparing the piece I did on genetics this week, I dug out the report I did on 26 June 2000, when the completion of the first draft of the human genome was published.

As well as seeing myself as a slightly more youthful correspondent, it brought back memories of a high-pressure afternoon of editing in a satellite truck round the back of the Wellcome Trust. We had a feed of pictures from Downing Street where Tony Blair was doing a simultaneous press conference with Bill Clinton, who was at the White House.

There was much talk of a revolution in medicine and I recall President Clinton saying "Today we are learning the language in which God created life."

Few would doubt that the medical revolution still has a very long way to go. But one staggering development over the past 10 years is the speed of DNA mapping. Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute can sequence an entire genome in 13 hours. The first complete human genetic code took 13 years to map. That's quite some acceleration and it will soon bring gene mapping within the reach of patients.

The speed of change is neatly illustrated in the foyer of the Sanger Institute. On display is one of the machines which was used to map the first human genome. It's become a museum piece in less than a decade.

Machine in foyer at Sanger Institute

So I know what I was doing on the afternoon of 26 June 2000. How about you, and do you remember hearing the news that day?


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