The sequences and the sequencers: What can a mixed-methods approach reveal about the history of genomics?

Rhodri Leng, Gil Viry, Miguel Garcia Sancho Sanchez, James Lowe, Mark Wong, Niki Vermeulen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This special issue on sequences and sequencers uses new analytical approaches to re-assess the history of genomics. Historical attention has largely focused on a few central characters and institutions: those that participated in the Human Genome Project (HGP), especially its final stages. Our analysis – based on an assessment of almost 13.5 million DNA sequence submissions and 30,000 publications of human, yeast, and pig DNA sequences – followed overlapping chronologies starting before and finishing after the periods in which concerted efforts were made to sequence the whole genomes of each species: 1980 to 2000 in yeast, 1985 to 2005 for the human, and 1990 to 2015 for the pig. Our main conclusion is that the large-scale center model that characterized the organization of the HGP was not representative of genomics as a whole, when broader sequencing practices – especially those addressed to non-human species – are taken into account.

Instead of taking the HGP as a model, we describe an iterative process in which the practices of sequence submission and publication were intertwined. Analysis of co-authorship networks between institutions derived from our data shows how linked sequence submission and publication were to medical, biochemical, and agricultural research. Our analysis thus reveals the utility of big data and mixed-methods approaches to address science as a multi-dimensional endeavor whose history is shaped by co-constitutive, synchronic interactions between different elements – such as communities, species, and disciplines – as much as diachronic trajectories over time. This perspective enables us to better capture interdisciplinary and interspecies work, as well as offering a more fluid portrayal of the connections between scientific practices and agricultural, industrial, and medical goals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistorical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Apr 2021


  • genomics
  • DNA squencing
  • genome sequencing
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • Homo sapiens
  • Sus scrofa
  • mixed-methods
  • co-authorship networks


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