A brief history of DNA

A look at some DNA milestones

1953: James Watson and Francis Crick reveal the structure of DNA as a double-stranded helix. They acknowledge the importance of ideas and data from Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.

1956: Human chromosome number established as 46, overturning the previously accepted figure of 48.

1961: Marshall Nirenberg and Johann Matthaei read the first DNA ‘word’, three letters that code for a single amino acid in a protein. The rest of the genetic code is worked out within five years.

1977: Fred Sanger and Walter Gilbert develop efficient methods for DNA sequencing. Sanger’s team sequences the first DNA genome, that of the bacterium-infecting virus phi X174.

1981: Human mitochondrial genome sequence published by Fred Sanger and colleagues.

1990: After some years of discussion, the Human Genome Project – to map, then sequence, the entire complement of human DNA – gets underway.

1995: Genome of the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae published, with 1.8 million base pairs (the first genome of a non-viral organism to be sequenced).

1996: Yeast genome published, containing 6,000 genes (the first eukaryotic cell genome to be sequenced).

1999: Fruit-fly genome published.

1999: First human chromosome sequence, number 22, published.

2000: UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton announce a ‘working draft’ of the human genome, produced by researchers working in the public and private sectors.

2001: The international Human Genome Project and private company Celera Genomics publish two independent drafts of the human genome sequence.

2002: Mouse Genome Sequencing Consortium completes first draft.

2002: Plasmodium genome sequenced, providing information that should be useful for understanding malaria, developing a vaccine and finding new drug targets.

2008: Launch of the 1000 Genomes project, intended to produce the best catalogue of human genetic variation to date.

2009: Researchers from Germany announce that they have sequenced the entire genome of a 38,000-year-old Neanderthal.

2010: The draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome published.

2012: 1,092 human genomes sequenced as part of the 1000 Genomes Project are described in the journal ‘Nature’.

2012: Western gorilla and bonobo genome sequences published.

2013: Genomics England launched by the Department of Health, aiming to sequence 100,000 human genomes.

2013: Koala genome sequence published.

2014: 234 cattle genome sequences completed, part of the 1000 Bull Genomes Project.

2014: Draft sequence of the bread wheat genome published.

2014: Cost of sequencing a human genome falls to below $1,000.

Lead image:

The koala genome was sequenced in 2013.

Alberto Sánchez Domingo/Flickr CC BY NC ND

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Genes, Genomes and Health’ in January 2010 and reviewed and updated in December 2014.

Genetics and genomics, History
Genes, Genomes and Health
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development