The Trinity College Dublin Dawson Prize in Genetics has been awarded by the TCD Smurfit Institute of Genetics to the Nobel Laureate in medicine, Dr John Sulston, whose mapping of the human genome has put him at the forefront of scientific endeavour. The prize was awarded to Dr Sulston at a ceremony which was followed by a public lecture given by Dr Sulston on “Genetics and Society” on Thursday, October 19th last.
Dr Sulston, formerly of Cambridge University and a former director of the Sanger Centre in the UK, won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his analysis of the way an animal develops from a fertilised egg. In his study, he traced the cellular development of the nematode worm from which he made some radical discoveries about cell lineages in humans. In the course of his work he identified different lines of stem cells and discovered how some cells in the developing animal are genetically programmed to die.
Dr Sulston was also one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, the international effort to map out the entire human genetic blueprint. This involved finding the genetic code in the DNA sequence of the 3,000 million elements in the DNA in each human being. In the course of this work, Dr Sulston withstood attempts to speed up the process and patent the most lucrative genes. He led the fight to ensure that data from this project would be available to all scientists for the public good rather than fall into private ownership. He remains a leading campaigner against the patenting of human genetic information.
The Dawson Prize in Genetics was established by a gift from George Dawson, founder of the TCD Department of Genetics. This is the first year the prize, which is a miniature of the Double Helix (designed by Brian King), has been awarded.