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John Sulston

Sir John Sulston
File:John Sulston.jpg
Born John Edward Sulston
(1942-03-27) 27 March 1942 (age 73)[1]
Cambridge, England
Citizenship Britain
Nationality English
Fields Zoology
Molecular biology
Institutions Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
University of Cambridge
Salk Institute
Laboratory of Molecular Biology
University of Manchester
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge
Thesis Aspects of oligoribonucleotide synthesis (1967)
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Other academic advisors Sidney Brenner
Known for Genome sequencing of Caenorhabditis elegans and humans[2][3][4][5]
Sulston score[6]
Notable awards Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine (2002)
Gairdner Award (2002)
Knight Bachelor (2001)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1986)
George W. Beadle Award (2000)[7]
Spouse Daphne Edith Bate[1]
The University of Manchester
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Sir John Edward Sulston FRS (born 27 March 1942) is a British biologist. For his work on the cell lineage and genome of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, he was jointly awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sydney Brenner and H. Robert Horvitz. As of 2014 he is Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester.[8][7][9][10][11][12][13][14]

John Sulston was educated at York House School, Redheath, Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood and Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating with BS in organic chemistry. He earned his doctorate from the University of Cambridge. Inspired by Leslie Orgel, Francis Crick and Sidney Brenner while working at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in US, he changed his research into biology. His works on the genome of C. elegans led to his active participation in the Human Genome Project. He, with Georgina Ferry, narrates his research career leading to the human genome sequence in The Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics, and the Human Genome (2002).[15]

Early life and education

John Sulston was born in Cambridge[16][17][18] to parents Theodore Sulston and Muriel Sulston.[19] His father was an Anglican priest and administrator of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. An English teacher at Watford Grammar School, his mother quit her job to care for him and his sister Madeleine.[20] His mother home-tutored them until he was five. At age five he entered the local preparatory school where he soon developed aversion to games. He instead developed an early interest in science, having fun with dissecting animals and sectioning plants to observe their structure and function.[21] He won scholarship to Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood[1] and then to Pembroke College, Cambridge graduating in 1963 with BSc degree in organic chemistry. He joined the department of chemistry in University of Cambridge, earning his PhD degree in 1966[22] for research in nucleotide chemistry. Between 1966 and 1969 he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in US.[19] His supervisor Colin Reese had arranged for him to work with Leslie Orgel, who would turn his scientific career in a different pathway. Orgel introduced him to Francis Crick and Sidney Brenner, who were themselves from Cambridge. He became inclined to biological research.[20]


Although Orgel wanted Sulston to remain with him, Sidney Brenner persuaded Sulston returned to Cambridge to work on the neurobiology of Caenorhabditis elegans at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Sulston soon produced the complete map of the worm's neurons.[23] He continued to work for its DNA and subsequently the whole genome sequencing. In collaboration with the Genome Institute at Washington University the whole genome sequence was published in 1998,[24] so that C. elegans became the first animal to have its complete genome sequenced.[25]

Sulston played a central role in both the C. elegans[3] and human genome[26] sequencing projects. He had argued successfully for the sequencing of C. elegans to show that large-scale genome sequencing projects were feasible. As sequencing of the worm genome proceeded, the project to sequence the human genome began. At this point he was made director of the newly established Sanger Centre (named after Fred Sanger and now the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute), located in Cambridgeshire, England.

Following completion of the 'working draft' of the human genome sequence in 2000, Sulston retired from his role as director at the Sanger Centre. In 2002 he won the Dan David Prize and the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. Later, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sydney Brenner and H. Robert Horvitz, both of whom he had collaborated with at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), for their discoveries concerning 'genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death'. One of Sulston's most important contributions during his research years at the LMB was to elucidate the precise order in which cells in C. elegans divide. In fact, he and his team succeeded in tracing the nematode's entire embryonic cell lineage. Sulston is now a leading campaigner against the patenting of human genetic information.

Personal life

John Sulston met Daphne Bate, a fellow research student in Cambridge. They got married in 1966[16] just before they left for US for postdoctoral research. Together they have three children. The first child Ingrid was born in La Jolla in 1967, Adrian and Madeleine later in England.[20]

Although brought up in a Christian family, Sulston lost his faith during his student life at Cambridge, and remains an atheist.[19][21] He is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.[27] In 2003 he was one of 22 Nobel Laureates who signed the Humanist Manifesto.[28]

Sulston is in favour of free public access of scientific information. He wants genome information freely available, and he has described as "totally immoral and disgusting" the idea of profiteering from such research. He also wants to change patent law, and argues that restrictions on drugs such as the anti-viral drug Tamiflu by Roche are a hindrance to patients whose lives are dependent on them.[19]

Awards and honours

In 2001 Sulston was invited to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on The Secrets of Life.

He also provided bail sureties for Julian Assange, according to Mark Stephens, Julian's solicitor.[29] Having backed Julian Assange by pledging bail in December 2010, he lost the money in June 2012 when a judge ordered it to be forfeited, as Assange had sought to escape the jurisdiction of the English courts by entering the embassy of Ecuador.[30]

He was awarded the Royal Society's Rutherford Memorial Lecture for 2013, which he delivered in New Zealand on the subject of population pressure.[31]


  1. ^ a b c "SULSTON, Sir John (Edward)". Who's Who 2013, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2013; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2012. (subscription required)
  2. ^ Wilson, R.; Ainscough, R.; Anderson, K.; Baynes, C.; Berks, M.; Bonfield, J.; Burton, J.; Connell, M.; Copsey, T.; Cooper, J.; Coulson, A.; Craxton, M.; Dear, S.; Du, Z.; Durbin, R.; Favello, A.; Fraser, A.; Fulton, L.; Gardner, A.; Green, P.; Hawkins, T.; Hillier, L.; Jier, M.; Johnston, L.; Jones, M.; Kershaw, J.; Kirsten, J.; Laisster, N.; Latreille, P.; Lightning, J. (1994). "2.2 Mb of contiguous nucleotide sequence from chromosome III of C. Elegans". Nature 368 (6466): 32–38. PMID 7906398. doi:10.1038/368032a0.  edit
  3. ^ a b Sulston, J.; Brenner, S. (1974). "The DNA of Caenorhabditis elegans". Genetics 77 (1): 95–104. PMC 1213121. PMID 4858229.  edit
  4. ^ Sulston, J. E.; Schierenberg, E.; White, J. G.; Thomson, J. N. (1983). "The embryonic cell lineage of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans". Developmental Biology 100 (1): 64–119. PMID 6684600. doi:10.1016/0012-1606(83)90201-4.  edit
  5. ^ Sulston, J. E.; Horvitz, H. R. (1977). "Post-embryonic cell lineages of the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans". Developmental Biology 56 (1): 110–156. PMID 838129. doi:10.1016/0012-1606(77)90158-0.  edit
  6. ^ Sulston, J.; Mallett, F.; Staden, R.; Durbin, R.; Horsnell, T.; Coulson, A. (1988). "Software for genome mapping by fingerprinting techniques". Computer applications in the biosciences : CABIOS 4 (1): 125–132. PMID 2838135. doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/4.1.125.  edit
  7. ^ a b Kimble, J. (2001). "The 2000 George W. Beadle Medal. John Sulston and Robert Waterston". Genetics 157 (2): 467–468. PMC 1461515. PMID 11370623.  edit
  8. ^ "Professor Sir John Sulston - personal details". The University of Manchester. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Gitschier, J. (2006). "Knight in Common Armor: An Interview with Sir John Sulston". PLoS Genetics 2 (12): e225. PMC 1756915. PMID 17196043. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0020225.  edit
  11. ^ Sulston, J. (2002). "A conversation with John Sulston". The Yale journal of biology and medicine 75 (5–6): 299–306. PMC 2588810. PMID 14580111.  edit
  12. ^ List of publications from Microsoft Academic Search
  13. ^ Portraits of John Sulston at the National Portrait Gallery, London
  14. ^ John Sulston's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  15. ^ Sulston,, John; Ferry, Georgina (2002). The Common Thread a Story of Science, Politics, Ethics, and the Human Genome (1 ed.). Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press. ISBN 978-0-309-08409-3. 
  16. ^ a b "John Sulston Biography"., Inc. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "John Sulston". DNA Learning Centre. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "John E. Sulston". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  19. ^ a b c d "John E. Sulston". NNDB. Soylent Communications. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c "John Sulston Biography Nobel Prize in Medicine". American Academy of Achievement. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  21. ^ a b "John E. Sulston - Biographical". Nobel Media AB. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  22. ^ Sulston, John (1967). Aspects of oligoribonucleotide synthesis (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. (subscription required)
  23. ^ Sulston, J.E.; Horvitz, H.R. (1977). "Post-embryonic cell lineages of the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans". Developmental Biology 56 (1): 110–156. PMID 838129. doi:10.1016/0012-1606(77)90158-0. 
  24. ^ The C. elegans Sequencing Consortium (1998). "Genome Sequence of the Nematode C. elegans: A Platform for Investigating Biology". Science 282 (5396): 2012–2018. PMID 9851916. doi:10.1126/science.282.5396.2012. 
  25. ^ "Caenorhabditis genome sequencing". Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Retrieved 22 April 2014. 
  26. ^ Lander, E. S.; Linton, M.; Birren, B.; Nusbaum, C.; Zody, C.; Baldwin, J.; Devon, K.; Dewar, K.; Doyle, M.; Fitzhugh, W.; Funke, R.; Gage, D.; Harris, K.; Heaford, A.; Howland, J.; Kann, L.; Lehoczky, J.; Levine, R.; McEwan, P.; McKernan, K.; Meldrim, J.; Mesirov, J. P.; Miranda, C.; Morris, W.; Naylor, J.; Raymond, C.; Rosetti, M.; Santos, R.; Sheridan, A. et al. (Feb 2001). "Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome". Nature 409 (6822): 860–921. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 11237011. doi:10.1038/35057062.  edit
  27. ^ "Distinguished Supporters". British Humanist Association. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  28. ^ "Notable Signers". Humanism and Its Aspirations. American Humanist Association. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  29. ^ "Wikileaks' Julian Assange tells of 'smear campaign'". BBC. 17 December 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  30. ^ Allen, Emily (4 September 2012). "Julian Assange's celebrity backers set to lose $540,000 bail money as he remains holed up in Ecuador Embassy". Daily Mail. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  31. ^ "Rutherford Memorial Lecturer". Royal Society of New Zealand. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 

External links


News and Press about John Sulston

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Director of the Sanger Institute
Succeeded by
Allan Bradley

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