1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Egenis · Research

The Human Genome - a study of something we all share

Adam Bostanci

Start date


Affiliated staff

Barry Barnes


Homepages: , Email: awsb2@cam.ac.uk

Funded by

University of Exeter


The human genome sequence was mapped around the turn of the millenium, both by the publicly-funded Human Genome Project and by the company Celera Genomics. Many scholars critized the idea of such a reference map, in view of the manifest diversity of human beings, in addition to the inevitable controversies arising from the different situation and methodologies pursued by both projects.


To develop an original historical sociology of human genome research.


  • Interviews with key scientists
  • Analysis of patents and patent applications
  • Analysis of the scientific literature,
    • in sociology of science
    • in philosophy of biology
  • Archival research and Freedom of Information Act requests


(Abstract of Adam Bostanci's PhD thesis:)

I show how references to 'the human genome' as a shared though invisible object of investigation furnished a sense of shared purpose and mutual accountability among scientific experts, which also extended to policy makers and broader audiences. In particular, I show how references to 'the human genome' served to coordinate research with human-derived DNA and that invocations of 'the human genome' among scientist cut across contexts that are conventionally classed as either scientific or commercial.

An analysis of the examination of patent applications for three entire microbial genome sequences shows that for the US Patent and Trademark Office these only constituted a logistical challenge; the patent system was unconcerned with invocations of 'the human genome'. I further document how scientists adopted the notion of a 'draft' of 'the human genome' in interactions with broader audiences. This went hand in hand with a shift in the focus of collective activity and references to 'the human genome' as a domain of investigation to the control of human genome sequence information. In this context, invocations of 'the human genome' increasingly drew on discourses of property, which allows me to offer an alternative explanation for the perceived success of human genome research.

Overall, my study shows that, while invocations of 'the human genome' changed to suit different objectives, actors did not differentiate between references to 'the human genome' for one purpose or another. Unreflective references to 'the human genome' thus furnished a sense of shared purpose and mutual accountability among them. At the same time, this collective activity can be seen as effecting significant developments of the notion of 'the human genome'. A further technical case study investigates how variability among human-derived DNA was accommodated in the results of the Human Genome Project and of Celera Genomics and explores how this might be conceptualised with respect to 'the human genome'.


Bostanci, A. and J. Calvert (2008) “Invisible genomes: the genomics revolution and patenting practice”, Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences 39(1), pp. 109–19.

Bostanci, A. (2006) “Two Drafts, One Genome? Human Diversity and Genome Research”, Science as Culture 15, pp. 183–198.

Stotz, K., A. Bostanci and P. Griffiths (2006) “Tracking the Shift to Post-Genomics”, Community Genetics 9,pp. 190–196.

O'Malley, M., A. Bostanci and J. Calvert (2005) “Whole-genome patenting”, Nature Reviews Genetics 6, pp. 502–506, doi:10.1038/nrg1613.

Bostanci, A. (2004) “Sequencing Human Genomes” in The Mapping Cultures of 20th Century Genetics. Edited by H.-J. Rheinberger and J.-P. Gaudillière, Routledge. pp. 158–79.