Digitising genetics

The Wellcome Trust will spend £3.9 million on a two-year pilot project – Modern Genetics and its Foundations. Drawing on the Wellcome Library’s rich collections, the project will digitise 1400 books on genetics and heredity published between 1850 and 1990, along with important archives including the papers of Francis Crick and his original drawings of the proposed structure of DNA.
Sir Mark Walport, explains the choice of the pilot theme:

“Modern genetics has made a tremendous impact on our understanding of human and animal health in recent years, and so it makes sense that the Library would begin digitising its collections in this important area of medical history. This project marks the first step on a long road which we hope will lead ultimately to free online access to all of our collections.”

The press release also suggests the Trust will digitise its collections of archives and papers from Fred Sanger and Peter Medawar.
Wellcome have also been supporting the work of the wonderful Professor Sir Peter Harper who created the Human Genetics Historical Library held at the University of Cardiff. As of May 2010 this had over 3,000 volumes and Wellcome have provided funding for cataloguing it. They have also funded Peter Harper and Cardiff Univ to carry out a Genetic Archives Project, to preserve and catalogue the archives of some leading British genetics scientists and a principal research organisation.
Those interested in the history of this area of science should also look at the Cold Spring Harbor Lab’s excellent oral history series, which has interviews of many of the early pioneers of molecular biology. This has been created by the indefatigable librarian at CSHL, Mila Pollock.
CSHL has been home to many of the great figures in the field – such as Barbara McClintock and Jim Watson – but more importantly it hosts many conferences, seminars and workshops so Mila has taken advantage of this to get interviews with many fascinating people who have passed through CSHL.
The CSHL Library recently re-opened after renovation and includes the Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology as part of its archives. They have established an archives blog which has some interesting posts already.
It is good to see that some institutions at least value their history and are helping to preserve it for future historians of science.
P.S. Just spotted the latest issue of the Royal Society’s Notes and Records has an article by David Weatherall on “Molecular medicine – the road to the better integration of the medical sciences in the twenty-first century”. This issue is a supplement containing papers from the conference The Royal Society and science in the 20th century. The conference marked the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society and was organised by the new Centre for History of Science.

About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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One Response to Digitising genetics

  1. Frank Norman says:

    Did this in a rush the other day. I have just added a little bit more about Cold Spring Harbor, and added a postscript about some recent stuff from the Royal Society.

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