Archives from the pioneers of modern genetics brought together for the first time

Published: 16 May 2012

The Wellcome Library is to bring the papers of the pioneers of modern genetics together in one place for the first time as part of a ground-breaking digitisation project, part of which features material from leading figures at the University of Glasgow.

The Wellcome Library is to bring the papers of the pioneers of modern genetics together in one place for the first time as part of a ground-breaking digitisation project, part of which features material from leading figures at the University of Glasgow.Guido Pontecorvo 

The project, Modern Genetics and its Foundations, will see tens of thousands of first-hand notes, letters, sketches, lectures, photographs and essays, produced by all the key players in the discovery of the structure of DNA and the development of genetics, such as Francis Crick, James D. Watson and Rosalind Franklin, made freely available online. These vast collections contain both iconic documents and everyday exchanges, complex research notes and personal ephemera and highlight the extraordinarily enmeshed networks of insight and inspiration lying behind pivotal moments of scientific discovery. The material will be released in phases from this autumn, with the collections from the University of Glasgow available from November 2012.

The archive has been achieved through a collaborative partnership involving the University of Glasgow, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, The Churchill Archives Centre, King’s College London and University College London. Access to the digitised papers of  James D. Watson, Rosalind Franklin, Sydney Brenner, Lionel Penrose, J.B.S Haldane, Guido Pontecorvo, James Harrison Renwick, Malcolm Ferguson-Smith and Maurice Wilkins will all be available. The collection will join material from the Wellcome Library’s own holdings including the papers of Francis Crick, Fred Sanger, Arthur Ernest Mourant, the MRC blood group, Hans Gruenberg and Gerard Wyatt.James Harrison Renwick

The material will offer a comprehensive picture of the complex and often fraught relationships between the scientists unlocking the secrets of the structure of DNA, in their own words, and give researchers and curious minds access to the personal and professional thoughts, blind alleys and breakthroughs of the circle of brilliant minds whose ideas transformed our understanding of the matter of life. 

The Wellcome Library’s Modern Genetics and its Foundations project is the first phase of a major digitisation programme which will create an integrated online research resource, featuring digitised books, archives, films, photographs and audio covering every aspect of the history of medicine and biomedical science.

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library says: “We are thrilled to be working with five world-class libraries to make these outstanding collections freely available alongside our own holdings. Together, they will offer an unparalleled research resource that documents one of the most significant periods of scientific innovation in human history.”

Lesley Richmond, Deputy Director of the University of Glasgow library and University Archivist added:  “"This project is an opportunity for the role of University of Glasgow in the development of Modern Genetics to be fully explored. Guido Pontecorvo was the father of genetics at Glasgow and his collection shows that the department that he established was a hub for international genetics research. Researchers will also be delighted to discover that the medical genetics works of Renwick & Ferguson-Smith are to be available online."Malcolm Ferguson

New external material to be digitised includes:

From the Glasgow University Archives Service

  • The Guido Pontecorvo Collection, including research material, correspondence, lecture notes and slides, from the 1940s to the 1990s. 
  • The James Harrison Renwick Collection, dating chiefly from the period of Renwick’s human genetics research from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. 
  • The Malcolm Ferguson-Smith Collection, dominated by very substantial correspondence covering the period 1957 – 2008.

From Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory:

  • The James D.Watson Collection, featuring biographical papers, correspondence, notebooks, and photographs and video, covering the period 1897 and 2010.  
  • The Sydney Brenner Collection, featuring correspondence with Francis Crick, between 1945 and 1979 and archival material, including notebooks, photographs and writings between 1948 and 1992.

From the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge:

  • The papers of Rosalind Franklin, including posthumously collected material about Franklin, covering the period 1937 to 1976.

From King’s College London

  • Large scale selection from the MRC Biophysics Unit, focused on the early history of X-ray crystallographic diffraction, including research and papers notes and correspondence by and related to Maurice Wilkins.  

From UCL

  • The Lionel Penrose Collection, including his professional and personal papers, essays, correspondence and photographs from 1915 to his death in 1972. 
  • The J.B.S. Haldane Collection, including notes, papers and correspondence, 1935-1957.


Notes to Editors

For more information please contact:

Tim Morley Senior Media Officer – The Wellcome Trust 020 7611 8612, email


Peter Aitchison, Depute Director {Media}, University of Glasgow, 0141 330 7350;



First published: 16 May 2012

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