To many scientists and nonscientists alike the term “genome” sounds quite modern and perhaps even a little like science fiction. The contemporary glow surrounding “genome” may stem from its connection in people’s minds with the recent unraveling of the sequence of the human (Homo sapiens) genome—a “man on the moon” moment for most biologists. The controversies surrounding genetically modified foods (GMO) and human “gene therapy” also add a slightly sinister nature to this glow. However, as with many things that we perceive as modern, the term “genome” is in fact much older than we imagine, having arisen almost a century ago in the writings of Hans Winkler, professor of botany at the University of Hamburg, Germany (Winkler 1920). In this primary work, “genome” is defined as “the haploid chromosome set,” and, along with factors from the cytoplasm, it is described as encoding the complete biological framework of a species. A current definition of the term “genome” would read more like “the complete DNA sequence of one complete set of chromosomes of an individual organism.”

This essay may be found on page 121 of the printed volume.

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