Recorded: 14 May 2004
Mapping human chromosomes started out initially with this very early project with the immune genes with Rob Porter back in the mid 1980. That was just one example. That was just one overlap between two clones and my team was somewhere on one of them. It nevertheless opened the door to what could be done. It was sometime later when I first moved to Guy’s Hospital and we were working on X-chromosome genes in relation to disease and in particular we were trying to reach out from a well known gene into unchartered territory and the same horrible feeling of the unknown, of the uncertainty came, as it had come previously with the chromosomes 6 project. We couldn’t tell whether we could reach out to the next landmark in one step, or ten steps or whether we even had the technology to do it. These local projects that [we] were working on: trying to build on X-chromosome genetics and to begin to understand whole regions of the chromosome. I started to get very interested in this challenge, at trying to turn that unknown into something that was fully chartered and by which we could not only make use of the genes we already had, but actually start to find other genes or to bring new powerful resources to bear in finding genes that were important in disease. It was a very direct link to build maps of chromosomes and then find genes that were direct clinical elements to patients. That was particularly strong, I think, on the human X-chromosome
I was never skeptical about the genome. Perhaps because my whole scientific career started when the concept of understanding genes and trying to establish a path between them was being talked about. Perhaps the sheer ambition of the project is exciting more than off-setting—no real reason for skepticism [when there is] the excitement of doing it. There were very clear reasons to do it. To move from a position of unknown, not knowing where things are relative to each other, to suddenly being able to lay them out on essentially this very simple single thread. It’s conceptually simple and extremely important to do.
David Bentley, molecular biologist and geneticist, is currently Vice President and Chief Scientist of DNA Sequencing at Illumina, Inc., a commercial developer of genetic analysis tools and systems.
Educated at the University of Cambridge (M.A. in biochemistry) and the University of Oxford (Ph. D.), Dr. Bentley was a postdoctoral fellow, lecturer, and senior lecturer at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospital in London from 1991 to 1993 where he studied mutations that cause genetic diseases, and a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical & Molecular Genetics at the University of London.
In 1993 he was brought to Sanger Centre (now known as Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) as a founding member and head of human genetics by his mentor, John Sulston. Dr. Bentley led Sanger in their major contributions to the Human Genome Project, The Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) Consortium, and the International Haplotype Mapping (HapMap) Project. Dr. Bentley left Wellcome in 1985 to join commercial sequencer, Solexa, Inc., as Chief Scientist where he was responsible for the Company’s DNA sequencing applications development and projects. Solexa was acquired by Illumina in 2007.