Ian Dunham on Cooperating Across Borders
  Ian Dunham     Biography    
Recorded: 16 May 2004

So I’ve been involved in the genome project really from the beginning and what developed is a series of collaborations between different groups. I think what’s interesting is the reason why these collaborations happen. And the reason that the international groups came together is that they had to. In order to do the work, they needed to use the money and the facilities that were spread across multiple countries and that really essentially forced them to get together and work together.

The main involvement that I had with those collaborations was reading the chromosomes to introduce sequencing effort. Because of, the historic interest of various groups, there were four different groups involved; two from the U.S., my group or the Sanger Institute and a group in Japan. What we had to try and do was to make sure that we didn’t conflict with each other. We didn’t sequence the same pieces of the chromosome and we communicated with each other so we knew what we were doing.

So if you can imagine having to talk to Oklahoma and Tokyo at the same time in different time zones and really people going to bed when the others are getting up, it makes it very difficult.

The thing that really helped us was the development of the Internet and email because we were able then to interact with each other so I could communicate with the Japanese group or the Japanese side during the day, in the early morning in Britain. And then I can communicate with the American groups in the afternoon in Britain. So I could act as sort of an intermediary between them.

There are always problems about working in collaborations like that. The problems are usually problems of trying to keep everybody’s interests satisfied so everybody wants to achieve and meet their own scientific goals. The skill in dealing with those collaborations is to make sure you can both satisfy those [personal goals] and satisfy the goal of the collaboration, the consortium, to get to the end product, which in our case was the chromosome 22 sequence. That requires compromises to be made between the different groups and that is quite an interesting aspect of working in the international collaboration like that.

Working at the Sanger Centre, Dunham heads the team, which sequenced human chromosome 22. He is interested in uses of human chromosome 22 as a model system for genomic analysis. Chromosome 22 represents about 1% of the whole genome but is a relatively gene rich chromosome. As such it is a tractable model system for a number of genome-wide studies.

Dunham’s initial work was in comprising physical maps in yeast artificial chromosomes (YACs) to produce an extensive YAC map, which served as the backbone for future production of the DNA sequence.

From 1996-1999 he focused on bringing the sequencing of human chromosome 22 to completion. This was achieved with the publication of the completed sequence and its analysis (Dunham et al. 1999). At the same time the group was responsible for establishing a benchmark level of gene annotation on the sequence. Currently chromosome 22 represents the best-annotated region of the human genome, and provides an excellent model system to develop functional genomic approaches. He was the leader of the consortium of four sequencing groups and numerous collaborators.

His team’s future research interests build on the knowledge of human chromosome 22 as a defined subset of the human genome to develop approaches to studying gene expression and networks at the mRNA and protein level. These include microarray expression analysis, cloning of tagged genes and expression of their proteins, development of phage antibody resources, and study of protein intracellular localization.

Dunham was formerly a Research Fellow and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Guys Campus in London.

The BBC interviewed Dunham:

Computer modeling suggests there may be as many as 1,000 genes on chromosome 22, but even this is but a small fraction of the estimated 60,000 to 100,000 genes in our cells.

Human disorders "One down, the others to go," said Ian Dunham, a biochemist at the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, UK, and lead author on the scientific paper in the journal Nature that announces the genetics landmark. "It's a great relief to have it finished."

Mutations to genes along chromosome 22 contribute to heart defects, immune system disorders, cancers, and mental retardation. A gene linked to schizophrenia is also thought to reside somewhere on chromosome 22.