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Human Genome News Archive Edition

Human Genome News, March 1991; 2(6)

United Kingdom Human Genome Mapping Project Expands Activities

International Role Included in Objectives
In 1989 the U.K. Secretary of State for Education and Science awarded £11M ($21 million) to the Medical Research Council (MRC) for the initiation of a national Human Genome Mapping Project (HGMP) to coordinate and expand U.K. activities in human genome mapping and to provide a link with genome projects in other countries. Program objectives include giving the United Kingdom a role in international genome research and ensuring that the nation will benefit from medical and commercial applications of genome work.

The award supplements the £20M ($38 million) already committed to genetics research annually in the United Kingdom by MRC (£10M, or $19 million), other research councils, and medical research charities such as the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and The Wellcome Trust. The new funds are being distributed over a 3-year period from April 1989 to March 1992, after which £4.5M ($8.6 million) will be incorporated into the MRC annual funding baseline.

The U.K. project aims to have a balanced portfolio that reflects and exploits existing strengths; a few areas have been identified for strategic development. One example is that, instead of attempting large-scale sequencing or mapping, the U.K. program will concentrate on identifying and isolating as many genes as possible and characterizing them in biological terms. The assumption is that sequencing a few hundred bases of a cDNA would determine what kind of protein the gene codes for and how interesting the gene would be to investigators. This approach will indicate which genes have already been sequenced and avoid duplication of effort.

Success of the U.K. genome project depends on the consolidation of resources, emphasis on collaboration, and central coordination of the national effort in order to compete with major international teams.

Genome Project Components

The Human Genome Mapping Project consists of two major components - the Resource Centre and the Directed Programme of Research - supported by the Secretariat.

The Project Management Committee oversees the Resource Centre and approves its budget; oversees the Directed Programme to ensure coordination with the center; and considers ethical, commercial, and other policy issues. The Resource Centre has a major role in effecting coordination.

Project Manager Tony Vickers has overall responsibility for the project, directs the Resource Centre, coordinates its activities with those of the Directed Programme, and represents U.K. genome mapping interests to the international community.

Resource Centre

The Resource Centre acts as a national repository and site for systematic work, as well as a distributory and reference center for human and mouse cDNA libraries, yeast artificial chromosome (YAC) libraries, DNA probes, computing facilities, and relevant databases. The center is managed jointly by Ross Sibson (Biology) and Martin Bishop (Computing).

A number of existing YAC libraries are being transferred to the Resource Centre. The center makes cDNAs which, after partial sequencing, can be used as probes to find a gene's position on the YAC. Investigators can send their cDNAs to the center and receive the center's cDNAs for their own research. A significant number of genes could be identified and located by processing 100 cDNAs per week for 5 years.

In addition to the production of cDNA libraries and sequencing of new cDNAs, work at the center includes nonradioactive sequencing, hybridization screening, polymerase chain reaction screening, oligonucleotide synthesis, and in situ hybridization.

To help laboratory researchers with computer networking, advisors from the center are visiting laboratories to assist in establishing standard molecular biology software. In addition, the Resource Centre is developing the following informatics facilities:

  • Computerization of data collection for the cDNA strategy.
  • Online access to all standard databases and software packages.
  • Incorporation of the Genome Data Base (GDB) from Johns Hopkins University for national and possibly European access.
  • Computer training courses. For a full description of courses, contact Christine Bates at the Resource Centre.

Directed Programme of Research

The Directed Programme selectively expands work in university departments, MRC establishments, and other institutions. The Directed Programme Committee works with the project manager to develop an overall operational strategy; identifies laboratories and solicits and evaluates proposals for funding of appropriate research projects; awards short-term grants and contracts, studentships, and training fellowships; and funds conferences, workshops, and travel.

An early objective of the Directed Programme was to enhance relevant work by supporting research in three broad areas:

  • General mapping of interesting genomic regions.
  • Evaluation and design of enabling methodologies and equipment.
  • Study of model organism genomes such as the mouse and the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans.

While this work continues to be strongly supported, the major thrust of the Directed Programme is now focused on mapping cDNAs in collaboration with the Resource Centre. Data and materials generated with the cDNA strategy will be available to the community for further analysis, subject to publication in existing public domain databases.

The Directed Programme funds access to a variety of resources to complement Resource Centre activities, including the ICRF DNA probe bank recently transferred to the Resource Centre and the Human Cell Bank at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton, England. The Directed Programme has also obtained and tested the St. Louis and Imperial Chemical Industries YAC Libraries (Oxford/London).


The Secretariat, headed by Diane McLaren, administers project business, services the HGMP committees, and helps to establish international links and coordination with organizations such as the Human Genome Organisation and the Commission of the European Communities. Located at MRC headquarters, the Secretariat also organizes annual users meetings to inform the community on the progress of national and international genome initiatives.

Model Organism Studies

The U.K. genome project is focusing on two model genomes, the mouse and C. elegans, to complement its human genome work. A backcross between Mus spretus and M. domesticus has been set up at the Resource Centre to provide a DNA resource for physical mapping.

A joint project funded by MRC and the NIH National Center for Human Genome Research involves extensive pilot-scale sequencing of the C. elegans genome at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge and Washington University Medical School in St. Louis. [see HGN 2(5), 1 (January 1991)].

Reported by Diane McLaren, Head
U.K. HGMP Secretariat
and Denise Casey and Anne Adamson

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Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v2n6).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.