50 years ago, scientists sequenced a gene for the first time

Excerpt from the January 6, 1973 issue of Science News

an illustration of a DNA helix with hands inserting missing peices on either side

Within five decades, scientists went from sequencing a single gene to sequencing the entire human genome.

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cover of the January 6, 1973 issue of Science News

Molecular biology’s flower child Science News, January 6, 1973       
During the past several years, some artificial genes have been synthesized…. But no one had unraveled a real gene that dictates the production of a protein. Now researchers … have done just that…. There is little doubt that sequencing of genes holds powerful ramifications for the advance of medical science.    


A new era of genetics research dawned when scientists reported that they had deciphered the building blocks of a gene belonging to a virus. (The gene itself looks flowerlike when folded up.) In the decades since, scientists have rendered genetic blueprints, or genomes, for entire organisms across the tree of life.

In 2001, the Human Genome Project released a rough draft of our collective genome. The master blueprint was finally completed last year (SN: 4/23/22, p. 6). Access to the human genome has led to powerful medical advances, including the development of targeted gene therapies and screenings for rare disorders (SN: 3/27/21, p. 10). In the future, people may routinely have their genomes sequenced to monitor health.

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