The 'morbid anatomy' of the human genome

Tracing the observational and representational approaches of postwar genetics and biomedicine the william bynum prize essay

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This paper explores evolving conceptions and depictions of the human genome among human and medical geneticists during the postwar period. Historians of science and medicine have shown significant interest in the use of informational approaches in postwar genetics, which treat the genome as an expansive digital data set composed of three billion DNA nucleotides. Since the 1950s, however, geneticists have largely interacted with the human genome at the microscopically visible level of chromosomes. Mindful of this, IÂ examine the observational and representational approaches of postwar human and medical genetics. During the 1970s and 1980s, the genome increasingly came to be understood as, at once, a discrete part of the human anatomy and a standardised scientific object. This paper explores the role of influential medical geneticists in recasting the human genome as being a visible, tangible, and legible entity, which was highly relevant to traditional medical thinking and practice. IÂ demonstrate how the human genome was established as an object amenable to laboratory and clinical research, and argue that the observational and representational approaches of postwar medical genetics reflect, more broadly, the interdisciplinary efforts underlying the development of contemporary biomedicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-336
Number of pages22
JournalMedical History
Volume58
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Fingerprint

Human Genome
Anatomy
Medical Genetics
Genome
Nucleotides
Chromosomes
Medicine
Biomedicine
DNA
Research
Visible

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nursing(all)

Cite this

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abstract = "This paper explores evolving conceptions and depictions of the human genome among human and medical geneticists during the postwar period. Historians of science and medicine have shown significant interest in the use of informational approaches in postwar genetics, which treat the genome as an expansive digital data set composed of three billion DNA nucleotides. Since the 1950s, however, geneticists have largely interacted with the human genome at the microscopically visible level of chromosomes. Mindful of this, I{\^A} examine the observational and representational approaches of postwar human and medical genetics. During the 1970s and 1980s, the genome increasingly came to be understood as, at once, a discrete part of the human anatomy and a standardised scientific object. This paper explores the role of influential medical geneticists in recasting the human genome as being a visible, tangible, and legible entity, which was highly relevant to traditional medical thinking and practice. I{\^A} demonstrate how the human genome was established as an object amenable to laboratory and clinical research, and argue that the observational and representational approaches of postwar medical genetics reflect, more broadly, the interdisciplinary efforts underlying the development of contemporary biomedicine.",
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