This April marks the 25th anniversary of the first issue of Nature Genetics, and I think it’s safe to say that the field of genetics has come quite a long way. In 1992, we were still nearly a decade away from the draft human genome sequence, “omics” was not yet a word in common usage, and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing wasn’t even a pipe dream.
Most of the content in our current issue would have possibly seemed like far-fetched science fiction to geneticists in 1992. Take for instance the new-and-improved domestic goat genome assembly reported on page 643 of this issue, for which multiple, relatively new technologies were employed to create one of the most complete and contiguous genome assemblies to date. However, as the News & Views by Kim Worley exemplifies, science marches on. While the geneticists of the past might have marveled at the possibility of a whole-genome shotgun assembly (indeed, a major advance reported in that first issue was a new technology allowing for automated sequencing of 106kb), Worley refers to the scientists of the present who are “frustrated with the highly fragmented genome sequences available for most species.”
Still, many things have remained the same.
Taking a look back at the very first editorial published in the journal, much of the journal’s mission in 1992 is still applicable to 2017. Take this passage:
“Researchers should not be dismayed that developments like this are widely reported in the general press. That is merely a measure of the widespread compassionate interest in inheritable disease. Who can be but flattered by such public testimony to the importance of a field of research?
“The research community’s interest, rather, is that there should also be a wide general understanding that the identification of an aberrant gene does not imply that there is a cure at hand for the condition for which it is responsible. […] The elucidation of the mechanisms by which genes determine the behaviour of the cells that carry them will be a general preoccupation in the years ahead. Nature Genetics intends to play its part in the publication of this important research, and also of course, in classical genetics that throws light on the human genome.”
While there is no denying that important medical advances have been enabled by the identification of disease genes, it is still painfully true that simply finding the gene does not directly lead to a cure on its own. Thus, both the identification of new disease-causing genetic alterations and studies that bring new mechanistic understanding of how a given mutation gives rise to disease are still core to the journal’s scope and aims.
The focus of the journal, as can be seen from this first editorial, was very much on human genetics at the beginning. Model organisms were considered just that, models for human biology. One of the major changes in the journal since that time has been our expansion to genetics (and genomics) more broadly, as represented by the many reference genomes and population genetics studies published for other organisms.
Too many landmarks to count
The editorial published in this month’s issue highlights a few selected articles from our among our more than 5,000 research publications over the years. These are obviously a restricted set of examples, and they are by no means the “best” papers, as such a ranking system would be ill-advised and ultimately useless. But the papers selected cover a wide range (though not all) of the sub-fields represented by the journal. This list includes landmark papers in human genome mapping (Kong et al. 2002) and cataloging of genetic variation (Iafrate et al. 2004); statistical methods that helped drive an entire field of research (Price et al. 2006); Mendelian disease gene discoveries that shed new light on biological mechanisms (Amir et al. 1999); key advances in the field of epigenetics (Heintzman et al. 2007); and advances in crop plant improvement (Ren et al. 2005).
We invite you to take a trip down memory lane and revisit these and other landmark papers from our archives. As a part of the celebration of 25 years of Nature Genetics, the editors will be blogging throughout April to highlight some of our past content.
A brief history of Nature Genetics
Nature Genetics was launched as the first of the Nature Research journals (if we ignore the very brief existence of Nature New Biology and Nature Physical Science in the early 1970s and the earlier version of Nature Biotechnology, Bio/Technology, published first in 1983).
While the history of genetics as field is by far more interesting than the history of a single journal, the occasion of our 25th anniversary has us thinking about our roots. For our 15th anniversary, founding editor Kevin Davies contributed a guest editorial telling the story of how Nature Genetics came about. I highly recommend that you check it out, if you haven’t seen it before.
Another feature of our 15th birthday celebration was the Question of the year. What would you do if the $1,000 genome were a reality today? To read the nearly 50 replies we received from leaders in the field, see the Question of the Year special here: http://go.nature.com/2mTMKBf.
The next 25 years
Just as researchers in 1992 would have been very unlikely able to predict the many breakthroughs that have occurred in genetics over the past 25 years, we have no idea where the next 25 years will take us. The goals will remain the same: to elucidate the mechanisms by which the genetic material produces the many phenotypic variations we see in nature and to identify the causes (and, more hopefully, cures) for human genetic disease.
That said, let’s take a stab at looking toward the future. What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in genetics? What will the field of genetics look like in another 25 years? Tell us below in the comments.
25 years from now, I hope to still be watching as geneticists make some of the greatest discoveries in biology. And I am confident that Nature Genetics will be there, playing its small role in announcing those discoveries to the world.