Nature, Published online: 24 June 2020
On 26 June 2000, US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair presided over a carefully choreographed piece of scientific theatre. Through a video link connecting Washington DC and London, they announced to the world that scientists had completed a rough first draft of the human genome sequence.
It was quite a production. Amid accompanying music and applause from scientists, diplomats, and members of Clinton’s cabinet, the president entered the White House East Room. He was flanked by the two leaders of competing teams on the sequencing effort: Francis Collins, then-director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, and Craig Venter, founder of Celera Genomics, a company formed to commercialize genome data.
It was not a day for understatements, as the reporter covering the event for Nature wrote. One participant, Mike Dexter, then-director of the Wellcome Trust, described its significance as surpassing that of the invention of the wheel. Clinton himself said: “Today’s announcement represents more than just an epoch-making triumph of science and reason … With this profound new knowledge, humankind is on the verge of gaining immense, new power to heal.”
Exactly 20 years on from that event, the ground-breaking significance of determining the human genome sequence is clear: it sparked a revolution in human biology and medicine, and genome sequencing is now routine…