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Wellcome Sanger Institute genome pioneer dies

By Adrian Curtis

The Sanger Institute confirm that Sir John Sulston has died.
The Sanger Institute confirm that Sir John Sulston has died.

Sir John Sulston's death is confirmed by Sanger Institute

British genome pioneer Sir John Sulston has died, the Sanger Institute has confirmed.

Sir John won a Nobel Prize in 2002 for his contribution to the understanding of how genes control cell division and cell death in the nematode worm.

He also helped found the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute at Hinxton near Cambridge.

The Institute now runs the largest genomics programme in Europe, and the laboratories there bear his name. He was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2017.

Professor Sir Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, paid tribute to Sir John.

He said: “John was founding Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute (then Sanger Centre). He proposed, and led from the front, the UK contributions to the human and worm reference genomes and established the Sanger Centre and Wellcome Genome Campus in order to achieve these goals.

“He had a burning and unrelenting commitment to making genome data open to all without restriction and his leadership in this regard is in large part responsible for the free access now enjoyed.

“We all feel the loss of a great scientific visionary and leader who made historic, landmark contributions to knowledge of the living world, and established a mission and agenda that defines 21st century science.”

Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, added: “John was a brilliant scientist and a wonderful, kind and principled man. His leadership was critical to the establishment of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Human Genome Project, one of the most important scientific endeavours of the past century.

“His dedication to free access to scientific information was the basis of the open access movement, and helped ensure that the reference human genome sequence was published openly for the benefit of all humanity. It’s just one of the ways that John’s approach set the standard for researchers everywhere.”

Sir John was born on the 17 March 1942 and was fascinated with the mechanical workings of organisms from an early age. He went on to complete his undergraduate degree in organic chemistry at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1963. He then went on to join the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, where he carried out a PhD on nucleotide chemistry.

At the time of his death, Sir John was Professor and Chairman of the Institute of Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, where he researched the relationship between scientists and society, a subject he was passionate about.


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