Letter by Letter

February 18, 2017 to May 21, 2017

An exhibition charting the development of DNA sequencing technology using objects from the Wellcome Genome Campus collection.

Although Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins identified the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, scientists did not have the means to “read” a sequence of its four letter chemical alphabet (A, C, G and T). During the 1970s Fred Sanger and his team at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge developed a method to do just that. “Sanger Sequencing” would become the foundation for how we unlock the genetic code of all living things. Genomics, the study of an organism’s entire DNA code, has developed rapidly over the last 25 years, with technological advances enabling sequencing of whole genomes to happen faster and cheaper each year. This exhibition charts the progress of DNA sequencing; many of the objects featured have been used at the Wellcome Genome Campus in our research. These technological advances have not happened in isolation, behind all of them are people: people identifying the challenges, coming up with solutions, and applying them to help solve other questions about what makes us, us.