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Genetics archives

03 November 2010

Illustration of DNA

The pioneering work of some of the twentieth century’s leading experts in human and medical genetics has been secured for future generations as part of a unique online archive collection at the University.

A £150,000 grant over two years from the Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources in Medical History scheme will allow the Information Services Directorate to archive and provide online access to the personal archives and book collections of key twentieth-century geneticists from across the UK.

Cardiff University is a leading organisation in the field of human and medical genetics. As part of the project the work of the University’s Professor Peter Harper – Emeritus Professor in Human Genetics who was responsible for research in neurogenetics, notably on Huntington's disease and myotonic dystrophy - will be archived.

"Human and Medical Genetics only developed as a research topic from the mid-twentieth century onwards, yet today discoveries by geneticists are transforming our understanding of the science of life, the treatment of diseases, and the prevention of incurable illnesses", according to Professor Harper.

"Yet the key geneticists have all now retired and we need to move quickly to gather and archive their personal papers before they are dispersed or discarded. If that happens we will never fully understand how genetics developed and shaped the modern world," he added.

As well as Professor Harper’s work, the project will also allow the work of other notable geneticists to be archived, including Professor John Hilton Edwards, credited with the first description in 1960 of trisomy 18, the Edwards syndrome; Dr George Robert Fraser, Senior Research Fellow at the Imperial Cancer Genetic Clinic from 1984 to 1997, credited with the identification of Fraser’s syndrome in 1962; and The Medical Research Council’s Human Biochemical Genetics Unit at the Galton Laboratory at University College London – the staff of the Unit identified over 30 new enzyme polymorphisms.

The funding is part of ongoing work by Cardiff University. An initial £90,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust was made for a one year project (2010-2011) on the archives of contemporary genetic scientists and enabled two senior archivists of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists (NCUACS) to move to Cardiff from the University of Bath.

Previous awards from the Wellcome Trust have also allowed the cataloguing of archives of geneticists William Bateson, Rodney Harris, Patricia Jacobs and C.A.B. Smith, and £15,000 for the cataloguing of books in the Human Genetics Historical Library in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR).

The move to secure the collection for future generations has been widely welcomed amongst the wider medical and archive community.

Cardiff University President and Nobel Prize Winner, Professor Sir Martin Evans said: "This award is something of which Cardiff can be truly proud. This project will enable future geneticists to understand how the field of research has developed.

"This is something which needs to be chronicled now, before we lose the archives of the geneticists who pioneered the field."

Janet Peters, Director of Cardiff University Libraries added: "The Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) section of the University Library Service has already helped to develop the largest library of books in Europe on the history of human and medical genetics, and the two key staff in that project, Professor Harper, and Peter Keelan, Head of SCOLAR, will also be leading this genetics archives project.

"Information Services will fully support this project and future work to develop Cardiff as the leading European University in this field."

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