John Sulston

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Sir John Sulston
John Sulston.jpg
John Sulston portrait from the Public Library of Science (PLOS)
Born John Edward Sulston
(1942-03-27) 27 March 1942 (age 75)[1]
Cambridge, England
Nationality English
Citizenship Britain
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge
Known for Genome sequencing of Caenorhabditis elegans and humans[2][3][4][5]
Sulston score[6]
Spouse(s) Daphne Edith Bate (m. 1966)[1]
Children 1 son, 1 daughter[1]
Scientific career
Thesis Aspects of oligoribonucleotide synthesis (1966)
Doctoral advisor Colin Reese[10][11]

Sir John Edward Sulston, CH FRS (born 27 March 1942) is a British biologist and academic. 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 Robert Horvitz. As of 2014 he is Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester.[13][14][15][16][17][18]

Early life and education

Sulston was born in Cambridge[1][19][20][21] to parents The Reverend Canon Arthur Edward Aubrey Sulston and Josephine Muriel Frearson (née Blocksidge).[1][22] 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.[23] His mother home-tutored them until he was five. At age five he entered the local preparatory school (York House School, Redheath)[citation needed] 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.[11] Sulston won a scholarship to Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood[1] and then to Pembroke College, Cambridge graduating in 1963 with a Bachelor of Arts[1] degree in Natural Sciences (Chemistry). He joined the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, after being interviewed by Alexander Todd[11][24] and was awarded his PhD in 1966[10] for research in nucleotide chemistry.


Between 1966 and 1969 he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in US.[22] His supervisor Colin Reese[10][11] 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 Sydney Brenner, who were working in Cambridge. He became inclined to biological research.[23]

Although Orgel wanted Sulston to remain with him, Sydney 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.[25] He continued work on its DNA and subsequently the whole genome sequencing. In collaboration with the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis the whole genome sequence was published in 1998,[26] [27] so that C. elegans became the first animal to have its complete genome sequenced.[28]

Sulston played a central role in both the C. elegans[3] and human genome[29] 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[30]), 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. With Georgina Ferry, he 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).[31]

Awards and honours

Sulston was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1986.[7] His certificate of election reads:

He was elected an EMBO Member in 1989[8] and awarded the George W. Beadle Award in 2000.[9] In 2001 Sulston gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on The Secrets of Life. In 2002 he won the Dan David Prize and the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. Later, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine[33] with Sydney Brenner and 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.

In 2013, Sulston was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand's Rutherford Memorial Lecture, which he gave on the subject of population pressure.[34]

He was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to science and society.[35]

Personal life

The Sulston Laboratories of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute are named in Sulston's honour

John Sulston met Daphne Bate, a fellow research student in Cambridge. They got married in 1966[19] just before they left for US for postdoctoral research. Together they have two children. The first child Ingrid was born in La Jolla in 1967, Adrian later in England.[36] His grandson Micah was born in 2001, followed by his granddaughter Kira in 2003.

Although brought up in a Christian family, Sulston lost his faith during his student life at Cambridge, and remains an atheist.[11][22] He is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.[37] In 2003 he was one of 22 Nobel Laureates who signed the Humanist Manifesto.[38]

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.[22]

Sulston provided bail sureties for Julian Assange, according to Mark Stephens, Julian's solicitor.[39] 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.[40]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g SULSTON, Sir John (Edward). Who's Who. 2015 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.  closed access publication – behind paywall (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. doi:10.1038/368032a0. PMID 7906398. 
  3. ^ a b Sulston, J.; Brenner, S. (1974). "The DNA of Caenorhabditis elegans". Genetics. 77 (1): 95–104. PMC 1213121Freely accessible. PMID 4858229. 
  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. doi:10.1016/0012-1606(83)90201-4. PMID 6684600. 
  5. ^ Sulston, J. E.; Horvitz, H. R. (1977). "Post-embryonic cell lineages of the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans". Developmental Biology. 56 (1): 110–156. doi:10.1016/0012-1606(77)90158-0. PMID 838129. 
  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. doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/4.1.125. PMID 2838135. 
  7. ^ a b c Anon (1986). "Sir John Sulston FMedSci FRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2016-04-10.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the website where:

    “All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.” --"Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 

  8. ^ a b "John Sulston EMBO profile". European Molecular Biology Organization. 
  9. ^ a b Kimble, J. (2001). "The 2000 George W. Beadle Medal. John Sulston and Robert Waterston". Genetics. 157 (2): 467–468. PMC 1461515Freely accessible. PMID 11370623. 
  10. ^ a b c Sulston, John Edward (1966). Aspects of oligoribonucleotide synthesis. (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. EThOS 
  11. ^ a b c d e f "John E. Sulston - Biographical". Nobel Media AB. Archived from the original on 2015-06-04. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  12. ^ Dunitz, J. D.; Joyce, G. F. (2013). "Leslie Eleazer Orgel". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 59: 277–289. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2013.0002. 
  13. ^ "Professor Sir John Sulston - personal details". The University of Manchester. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  14. ^ "Professor Sir John Sulston". University of Manchester. Archived from the original on 2013-11-13. 
  15. ^ Gitschier, Jane (2006). "Knight in Common Armor: An Interview with Sir John Sulston". PLOS Genetics. 2 (12): e225. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0020225. PMC 1756915Freely accessible. PMID 17196043.  open access publication – free to read
  16. ^ Sulston, J. (2002). "A conversation with John Sulston". The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 75 (5–6): 299–306. PMC 2588810Freely accessible. PMID 14580111. 
  17. ^ Portraits of John Sulston at the National Portrait Gallery, London
  18. ^ John Sulston's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier. (subscription required)
  19. ^ a b John Sulston on IMDb
  20. ^ "John Sulston". DNA Learning Centre. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  21. ^ "John E. Sulston". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  22. ^ a b c d "John E. Sulston". NNDB. Soylent Communications. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  23. ^ a b "John Sulston Biography Nobel Prize in Medicine". American Academy of Achievement. Archived from the original on 23 April 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  24. ^ Brown, D. M.; Kornberg, H. (2000). "Alexander Robertus Todd, O.M., Baron Todd of Trumpington". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 46: 515–532. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1999.0099. 
  25. ^ Sulston, J.E.; Horvitz, H.R. (1977). "Post-embryonic cell lineages of the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans". Developmental Biology. 56 (1): 110–156. doi:10.1016/0012-1606(77)90158-0. PMID 838129. 
  26. ^ Wilson, Richard K. (1999). "How the worm was won: the C. elegans genome sequencing project". Trends in Genetics. 15 (2): 51–58. doi:10.1016/S0168-9525(98)01666-7. ISSN 0168-9525. 
  27. ^ The C. elegans Sequencing Consortium (1998). "Genome Sequence of the Nematode C. elegans: A Platform for Investigating Biology". Science. 282 (5396): 2012–2018. doi:10.1126/science.282.5396.2012. PMID 9851916. 
  28. ^ "Caenorhabditis genome sequencing". Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Retrieved 22 April 2014. 
  29. ^ 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. doi:10.1038/35057062. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 11237011. 
  30. ^ Brownlee, George G. (2015). "Frederick Sanger CBE CH OM. 13 August 1918 — 19 November 2013". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. Royal Society publishing. 61: 437–466. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2015.0013. ISSN 0080-4606. 
  31. ^ 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. 
  32. ^ "Certificate of Election EC/1986/35: John Edward Sulston". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 23 August 2015. 
  33. ^ John Sulston: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2002
  34. ^ "Rutherford Memorial Lecturer". Royal Society of New Zealand. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  35. ^ "No. 61962". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 2017. p. B26. 
  36. ^ Sulston, John (2002). The Common Thread. Bantam. p. 22. ISBN 978-0309084093. 
  37. ^ "Distinguished Supporters". British Humanist Association. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  38. ^ "Notable Signers". Humanism and Its Aspirations. American Humanist Association. Archived from the original on 5 October 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  39. ^ "Wikileaks' Julian Assange tells of 'smear campaign'". BBC. 17 December 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  40. ^ 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. 

External links

  • John Sulston profile from Channel4
  • John Sulston profile from BBC4
  • Freeview Video of Fredrick Sanger in conversation with John Sulston by the Vega Science Trust
  • John Sulston profile from the Medical Research Council lab for Molecular Biology
  • John Sulston interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 16 September 2008 (film)
  • Dan David Prize laureate 2002
  • Sir John Sulston awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize (press release from the Sanger Centre)
  • The public servant: John Sulston
  • British Scientists share 2002 Nobel Prize
  • John Sulston: One man and his worm from The Guardian
  • John Sulston profile on the Stapleford Cambridge website where he lives
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Director of the Sanger Institute
Succeeded by
Allan Bradley
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