There is now a considerable secondary literature on the attempt to identify, characterise and ultimately sequence all of the estimated 100 000 genes in the human genome (see inter alfa Bishop and Waldholz (1990), Cook-Degan (1994), Davis (1991), Kevles and Hood (1992), Wingerson (1990) and articles in this book). This formidable task has transformed molecular biology into ‘big science’ (de Solla Price 1963) and will take at least another 10 years to complete. According to the Office of Science and Technology (OST, 1994, p.6), the Human Genome Mapping Programme “has enormous potential for the improvement of health and wealth creation”. It has become a focus for study by social as well as natural scientists because, unlike many of the other new technologies, genetics most directly affects all of us at a very personal level. Mills (1970, p.12) saw the essential project of social science as the use of the imagination to “grasp history and biography and the relations between the two in society”. This enables the social scientist “to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self”. Hence, his concern for the relationship between “the personal troubles of milieu” and “the public issues of social structure” strikes a resonant chord in the project to find what has been described as the ‘holy grail’ of genetics.