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

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

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 concerted efforts to sequence the 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 when broader sequencing practices—especially those addressed to nonhuman species—are taken into account, the large-scale center model that characterized the organization of the HGP falls short in representing genomics as a whole. Instead of taking the HGP as a model, we describe an iterative process in which the practices of sequence submission and publication were entangled. 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 for addressing science as a multidimensional endeavor with a history shaped by co-constitutive, synchronic interactions among 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, and offers a more fluid portrayal of the connections between scientific practices and agricultural, industrial, and medical goals. This essay is part of a special issue entitled The Sequences and the Sequencers: A New Approach to Investigating the Emergence of Yeast, Human, and Pig Genomics, edited by Michael García-Sancho and James Lowe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-319
Number of pages43
JournalHistorical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

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


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