British scientist John Sulston, the spearhead of Britain's part in mapping mankind's genetic blueprint, gives a press conference 12 February 2001 in London about the Human Genome Project (HGP) at The Wellcome Trust. (AFP/Adrian Dennis)
Nobel prize-winning British scientist John Sulston, a leading figure in the race to decipher the human genome, has died at the age of 75, the institute he founded said Friday.
Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, described the professor, who died on Tuesday, as a "great scientific visionary leader".
In 2002, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine along with fellow Briton Sydney Brenner and H. Robert Horvitz of the United States for their gene research.
Using a lowly earthworm, Caenorhabditis elegans, they laid bare the mechanism by which genes regulate the programmed death of cells, a process vital to understanding cancer.
But Sulston was perhaps best known for leading Britain's contribution to the international project to map the human genome, and his insistence that the data be placed in the public domain.
"His dedication to free access to scientific information was the basis of the open access movement, and helped ensure that the reference human genome sequence was published openly for the benefit of all humanity," said Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome.
Sulston founded what was then the Sanger Centre, near Cambridge, in 1992 and was its director until 2000. It is now one of the leading centres for genome research in the world.