Issued: April 10, 2003

Celebration of the Genome

Fifty years ago this month, researchers Francis Crick and James Watson published their historic paper describing the double-helix structure of DNA. For their achievement, Drs. Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Seventeen years ago this spring, at the recommendation of one of its scientists, the Department of Energy launched the effort to determine the DNA sequence of the human genome. This coming week, representatives of DOE and the National Institutes of Health will announce the completion of the sequencing of the human genome.

The 50th anniversary of the Watson–Crick discovery of DNA and the successful completion of the Human Genome Project are being celebrated around the world throughout April 2003 – and in particular, at joint NIH–DOE symposia in Washington, DC on April 14–15. There, still another DOE contribution to the advancement of science also will be discussed: the Office of Science's Genomes to Life program.

As part of DOE's Celebration of the Genome, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham [issued the following statement].

Statement of Secretary Spencer Abraham

I am very proud of the Department of Energy's historic role in the sequencing of the human genome – and very excited by the promise of DOE's Genomes to Life initiative.

In 1986, a DOE scientist, Dr. Charles DeLisi, proposed that DOE should attempt to decode the tens, even hundreds of thousands of genes then thought to be in the human genome, in order to understand, at the DNA level, the effects of radiation, energy use and energy-production technologies on human health.

And so the Department of Energy became the very first agency to fund research into genome mapping and sequencing.

But DOE's Office of Science did more than launch the historic quest to discover the genetic blueprint of human beings. DOE also developed cost-effective sequencing and computational technologies and methods that made possible the unraveling of the human genetic code.

In addition, by bringing together the research capabilities of three of our national laboratories – Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos – DOE founded the Joint Genome Institute, one of the world's largest and most productive public genome sequencing centers.

Indeed, DOE's Joint Genome Institute completed the sequencing of three of the human genome's chromosomes – numbers five, 16 and 19 – which together contain some 12,000 genes, including those implicated in forms of kidney disease, prostate and colorectal cancer, leukemia, hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Now, DOE once again is pioneering discovery-class science. For the same biotechnology revolution that offers such promise for human health is also a powerful tool for clean energy and a cleaner environment.

DOE's Genomes to Life program is developing new knowledge about how microorganisms grow and function and will marry this to a national infrastructure in computational biology to build a fundamental understanding of living systems.

The thrust of Genomes to Life is aimed directly at DOE concerns:

  • developing new sources of energy;
  • mitigating the long-term impacts of climate change through carbon sequestration; and
  • cleaning up the environment.

DOE's Genomes to Life research stands on the shoulders of discoveries made precisely because DOE was willing to take the risk and begin a program in gene sequencing some 17 years ago. We are very proud of that tradition and of that legacy.

Congratulations to all those who have helped in this historic effort.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2003