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Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 631–655 | Cite as

Whose Turn? Chromosome Research and the Study of the Human Genome

  • Soraya de ChadarevianEmail author
Open Access
Article

Abstract

A common account sees the human genome sequencing project of the 1990s as a “natural outgrowth” of the deciphering of the double helical structure of DNA in the 1950s. The essay aims to complicate this neat narrative by putting the spotlight on the field of human chromosome research that flourished at the same time as molecular biology. It suggests that we need to consider both endeavors – the human cytogeneticists who collected samples and looked down the microscope and the molecular biologists who probed the molecular mechanisms of gene function – to understand the rise of the human genome sequencing project and the current genomic practices. In particular, it proposes that what has often been described as the “molecularization” of cytogenetics could equally well be viewed as the turn of molecular biologists to human and medical genetics – a field long occupied by cytogeneticists. These considerations also have implications for the archives that are constructed for future historians and policy makers.

Keywords

Cytogenetics Molecular biology Population studies Gene mapping Human genetics Human genome project Molecularization 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank Christopher Donohue for the invitation to participate at the workshop Capturing the History of Genomics in Bethesda, MD in April 2015 and providing the brief for the talk on which this article is based as well as for facilitating access to the archival and digitized materials at the National Human Genome Research Institute Archive. Thank you also to the other participants of the meeting for vigorous discussion and to the incisive comments of two anonymous referees that helped give the essay its final shape. Research for the larger project on which this essay is based was supported by a Scholar Award from the National Science Foundation (No. 1534814, 2015–17).

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corrected publication 2019

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Institute for Society and GeneticsUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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