Recorded: 14 May 2004
Well, the Drosophila Genome Project is one of the most interesting genome projects because it reached so many periods of the whole program. It was there at one of the earliest projects and it was the first one to be done by a whole genome shotgun.
So my group joined the drosophila group in achieving that goal right before Celera came on the scene. What had happened was that the Berkeley group was struggling along using some of the earlier technologies that really weren’t working out that well. They were actually in some trouble as far as their funding security went. They were advised to reach out to another group that had some of the new shotgun technology methods in order to allow them to import the technology and share the work. We reached out a hand and joined the Berkeley group in that project. Then we went through our funding cycle. We were set up to do the project, and immediately after, Celera appeared. I remember the meeting when Craig Venter addressed the human genome-sequencing crowd here at Cold Spring Harbor in Plimpton. It was actually upstairs in [Beckman]—up the hill there. After his talk, which he finished by saying, and we’re going to do a 200 megabase genome just for practice but I can’t tell you what it is, then as he walked out the door [and] he pointed to Gerry Rubin who was essentially associated with the drosophila work and said, Gerry, can I see you in the foyer for a moment? Of course, we already knew which project it was, but this was an obvious ploy. That’s when Craig offered to sequence the drosophila, do the drosophila raw reads. So this created a new dynamic for the Baylor-Berkeley interactions on the Drosophila Project. It wasn’t altogether favorable because now Berkeley had a different lifeline, which was Celera. They used that lifeline to get the shotgun sequencing, get this first part of the project done. Then we returned to more coordinated work for the finishing phase where we finished a third of it in Houston and two-thirds were done in Berkeley and we finally produced this high quality data.
Richard A. Gibbs is currently the Director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the Wofford Cain Professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) in 1979 and a Ph.D. in Genetics and Radiation Biology in 1985 at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In 1990 he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, studying the molecular basis of human X-linked diseases and developing technologies for rapid genetic analysis. He developed several fundamental technologies for nucleic acid analysis. In 1991, he joined the BCM faculty and played a key role in the early planning and development phases of the Human Genome Project. In 1996, he established the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center when Baylor was chosen as one of six programs to complete the final phase of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Gibbs has also made significant contributions to the deciphering of the fly, mouse, dictyostelium, and rat genomes. Among the numerous awards and honors received by Dr. Gibbs, he was awarded the Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Excellence in Research Award in 2000.