The 'morbid anatomy' of the human genome: Tracing the observational and representational approaches of postwar genetics and biomedicine the william bynum prize essay

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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 (US)
Pages (from-to)315-336
Number of pages22
JournalMedical history
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2014


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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

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