Happy DNA Day!

65 years ago today, James Watson and Francis Crick published the paper that defined the double helix structure of DNA for the first time. This year’s DNA Day is even more exciting as this month marks the 15th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003. To celebrate, we’ve put together a timeline of some of the major events that have happened in genomics since 1953 – See how far we’ve come!



James Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins identify the double helix structure of DNA.


Joe Hin Tjio and Albert Levan identify humans as having 46 chromosomes, after almost thirty years of the belief that we had 48. In the same year, Arthur Kornberg and his team isolate DNA polymerase from E. coli for the first time and identify its replication properties.


Vernon Ingram links the defect in haemoglobin that is characteristic of sickle cell anaemia to a particular DNA mutation, making it the first time a disease was traced to a genetic alteration.


Franklin Stahl and Matthew Meselson demonstrate the semi-conservative nature of DNA replication.


 Arthur Kornberg is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to genomics, alongside Severo Ochoa. In the same year, Jerome Lejeune and his team link Down syndrome to a chromosomal abnormality.



Robert Guthrie introduces the first metabolic defect screen in infants by testing for phenylalanine in newborn blood specimens to identify cases of phenylketonuria. In the same year, Sydney Brenner, Matthew Meselson, Francois Jacob, and others discover that mRNA is used to translate genomic information into protein production. At the same time, Marshall Nirenberg and Har Gobind Khorana, amongst others, identify how DNA bases come together to form triplet codons, each of which codes for a specific amino acid.  


James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work nine years prior.


Marshall Nirenberg and Har Gobind Khorana share the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Robert Holley, who sequenced the first tRNA molecule. In the same year, the first restriction endonucleases were characterised by Matthew Meselson and his team.



The first recombinant DNA is produced by Paul Berg and his team by inserting new genetic material into the DNA of the Simian Virus and E. coli.


Robert Helling and his team clone an animal gene for the first time by splicing frog DNA into E. coli and encouraging the bacteria to replicate.


Genentech, the first genetic engineering company was founded by Herbert Boyer. This was the start of an industry that now contains over 9000 companies.


Two labs, run by Richard Roberts and Phil Sharp, demonstrate that eukaryotic genome sequences contain introns. In the same year, two teams develop ways of rapidly sequencing DNA: Allan Maxam and Walter Gilbert, and Frederick Sanger et al. Sanger’s method will go on to be the primary technique for sequencing DNA for the next three decades.



Paul Berg, Walter Gilbert, and Frederick Sanger share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their collective work on nucleic acids.


The first transgenic mice are produced by three different research groups, enabling researchers to test gene functions in a novel way.


The US National Institutes of Health establish GenBank, the first publically accessible genetic sequence database.


A gene linked to Huntington’s disease is identified on chromosome 4, making it the first genetic disease to be mapped to a particular locus. In the same year, the polymerase chain reaction is developed by Kary Mullis, enabling massive amplifications of nucleic acid samples.


Alec Jeffreys and his team develop a novel method for DNA profiling, aided by the availability of PCR.


The first human disease gene to be identified by positional cloning, one linked to chronic granulomatous disease, is published.


Helen Donis-Keller and her team produce the first comprehensive map of human chromosomes.



The Human Genome Project is launched with the intention of sequencing a complete human genome within 15 years.


Richard Roberts and Phil Sharp win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in the 1970s. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Kary Mullis for the invention of PCR, alongside Michael Smith. In the same year, Frederick Sanger opens the Sanger Centre near Cambridge in the UK.


The Microbial Genome Project is launched with the intention of sequencing bacterial genomes.


The first bacterial genomes, Haemophilius influenza and Mycoplasma genitalium, are sequenced.


An international strategy meeting is called between researchers from Europe, North America, and Asia to discuss funding and strategies for human genome sequencing projects. The attendees agree that the data generated by these collaborative projects should be made public at their conclusion. In the same year, the first complete genome of a eukaryote, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is obtained. At the same time, Congress in the United States passes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, making genetic discrimination in health insurance illegal. This is also the year that the first cloned mammal, Dolly the Sheep, is born at the Roslin Institute.


The E. coli genome sequence is completed.


Illumina, Inc. is founded. In the same year, the first drug targeting a specific genetic abnormality is released alongside a specialised assay as Herceptest for breast cancer patients. 


The Human Genome Project completes the sequencing of the first human chromosome, Chromosome 22. In the same year, the Ensembl genome browser is launched.



US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair release a joint statement that argues that raw, fundamental human genome data should be freely available.


The US Food and Drug Administration approves the first genetics-based drug for chronic myeloid leukaemia, Gleevac. In the same year, the first drafts of the human genome sequence are released by the Human Genome Project and Celera Genomics Corporation.


The first genetic variation linked to prostate cancer is identified. In the same year, Jansen et al. coin the term CRISPR to describe an unexplained phenomenon in bacterial DNA.


The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium announces the successful end to the Human Genome Project, two years earlier than their original goal. The final sequence covers 99% of the human genome and is considered to be 99.9% accurate. In celebration of this milestone, 25th April is designated as the first DNA Day.


The genome of the chimpanzee is sequenced. In the same year, Oxford Nanopore Technologies is founded with the intention of creating sequencers using novel nanopore technology.


Solexa releases their first sequencer, the Genome Analyzer, which uses a different, faster approach than the commonly used Sanger sequencing.


Illumina acquires Solexa and the first Illumina sequencers go into production, beginning the age of next generation sequencing.


The 1,000 Genomes Project is launched to sequence the genomes of 2,500 people in response rapidly decreasing sequencing costs and much faster sequencing times.



The 1,000 Genomes Project publishes its first paper in Nature. In the same year, the Neanderthal genome is published for the first time.


The US Supreme Court rules that naturally occurring DNA sequences cannot be patented.


Front Line Genomics is founded by Richard Lumb. In the same year, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier report using CRISPR to edit a bacterial genome successfully. A short while later, Feng Zhang and his team report adapting the system for use in eukaryotic cells.


The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics publishes guidelines on how to categorise mutations detected in patients’ DNA and how they can be reported in an ethical, practical manner.


Oxford Nanopore Technologies announce that they will soon be able to sequence DNA on a smartphone.


Gene Editing is performed inside a human body for the first time in an attempt to treat a patient with Hunter Syndrome. In the same year, Illumina announce a new range of sequencers that could bring the cost of sequencing down to just $100 per genome.


A new world record of 19.5 hours is set for the fastest genetic diagnosis by Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine.