40 years of Sanger sequencing

DNA sequencing has a remarkable history, in terms of inception and evolution of the technologies themselves, as well as the breadth and scope of problems to which they have been applied. This Nature collection celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Sanger method for DNA sequencing, the most widely used sequencing method, pioneered by Fred Sanger and his team in 1977.

In a Review and accompanying Milestones, Jay Shendure, Shankar Balasubramanian, George M. Church, Walter Gilbert, Jane Rogers, Jeffery A. Schloss and Robert H. Waterston review the evolution of sequencing technologies over the past 40 years. The Milestones list key advances in methods development, computational analyses and applications of genome sequencing. We also highlight a selection of key publications from these Milestones that appeared in Nature journals in the Methods, Genomes and Applications sections.

Accompanying news and commentary in Nature bring further perspectives on this 40 year anniversary of Sanger sequencing. In a Commentary Eric Green, Eddy Rubin and Maynard Olson share perspectives on the future of sequencing over the next 40 years. A Technology Feature explores recent progress in one emerging method, nanopore sequencing, showing potential to upend the DNA sequencing market. A News Feature provides context on genomics applications in direct to consumer genetic testing.

- Orli Bahcall, Senior Editor, Nature

LISTEN: Nature Podcast with NHGRI Director Eric Green on how DNA sequencing has transformed biology, and what might still be to come.

Milestones in genomes sequenced 

The milestones listed below correspond to key developments in the availability of new reference genomes. This is a large topic, and we apologize for any omissions.


1977: Bacteriophage ΦX174 

1982: Bacteriophage lambda

1995: Haemophilus influenzae

1996: Saccharomyces cerevisiae

1998: Caenorhabditis elegans

2000: Drosophila melanogaster

2000: Arabidopsis thaliana

2001: Homo sapiens: The Human Genome Project  and Celera produced draft sequences of the human genome with the HGP publishing in 2004 a more complete, relatively error-free reference.  

2002: Mus musculus

Rattus norvegicus

2005: Pan troglodytes

2005: Oryza sativa

2007: Cyanidioschyzon merolae

2009: Zea mays

2010: Neanderthal

2012: Denisovan

2013: The HeLa cell line: Adey et al. ; Landry et al.  

2013: Danio rerio

2017: Xenopus laevis