Janet Thornton
biomolecular scientist

The efforts to map the human genome sequence was unquestionably one of the extraordinary scientific achievements of the twentieth century. At the heart of this revolution in biology is Professor Janet Thornton. Until recently she was Head of Research at the School of Biomolecular Sciences, a joint Birkbeck College and University College London venture that includes structural biologists, biochemists and molecular biologists. She is now Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute on the Genome Campus at Hinxton, near Cambridge.

She enthuses about recent developments: 'Complete sequences for several bacteria, yeast and a small worm have just been determined and we now have the complete sequence for the human genome.' These new discoveries are not only transforming the science itself, they will also shake up the boundaries between different sciences. 'Biology is just so exciting that chemists, physicists and computer scientists are all going to want to be involved. This mix of expertise has enormous potential for making new discoveries.'

Studying at Nottingham University, Janet's first degree was in physics. Her transition into biology came through an M.Sc. in Biophysics at King's College London, before moving on to the National Institute for Medical Research. Janet's enthusiasm gives the impression that we can't even begin to imagine the possibilities deriving from human genome research. 'We can expect many new practical applications that will have a wide impact on almost every part of life, especially medicine and agriculture. A battery of new diagnostic tools will lead the way to better treatments designed for individual patients using better drugs.' Janet is aware of the profound social implications of this work: 'I think life expectancy will certainly increase with enormous implications that need much debate.'

Further reading:
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University College London

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Professor Janet Thornton is evangelical about the promise of the genome project research: ‘I think life expectancy will certainly increase with enormous implications that need much debate.’ Her work on protein molecules earned her admission to the Royal Society.