Maynard Olson on CSHL Symposia & Meetings
  Maynard Olson     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2003

Actually, I’ve not been a symposium organizer. I organized the genome meetings, yes—yeah, I organized a bunch of these early genome meetings. And they’re—yeah, they are different than other scientific meetings. And, you know, it’s a whole bunch of things. It’s tradition. That’s very important to people. Every young person can tell you the first time they came here and they can’t believe that they’re here. You know they were in high school a few years before or something and now they’re at Cold Spring Harbor giving a talk. So there’s tradition.

There is the intimacy of the place, very important. You trip over people when you’re trying to, you know, run from building to building in the rain. This isolated kind of on-campus arrangement where people are just kind of pushed in together. There is the kind of continuity. The fact that a lot of these meetings have gone on for years and years and years. That’s partly tradition but it’s also institutional memory. So at a meeting like this one, you know there are people that really know the whole history of genomes as they’ve been represented at these annual meetings here. And they’ve seen the shifting emphasis of the field and that all comes out. You know the talks are full of stories about—gee, you know, I remember the meeting in 1993 and I was just plain wrong. What I said then was just plain wrong. And the reason I was wrong—and so forth. You don’t get that at an ordinary scientific meeting because it doesn’t have that kind of continuity to it, that continuous thread. You know there are whole bunches of scientists that I know only through Cold Spring Harbor meetings. I mean these are people I now think of as knowing well. I’ve known them for 25 years. I’ve had many long discussions with them in the Blackford Bar and so forth. I’ve never seen them at any other place. This is my entire relationship with them. So it’s a wonderful institution.

Maynard V. Olson received his Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from California Institute of Technology and Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Stanford University (1970). After five years on the chemistry faculty at Dartmouth College, he shifted his research efforts to molecular genetics at Washington University in St Louis and the University of Washington in Seattle. He now serves as Director of the University of Washington Human Genome Center, Professor of Genetics and Medicine, and Adjunct Professor of Computer Science & Engineering.

A pioneer in genomic research, Dr. Olson launched the ultimately successful effort to construct a detailed physical map of the yeast genome in 1979. He also led efforts to develop yeast artificial chromosomes (YACs) that allowed for the study of large portions of the human genome and proved invaluable in the tracking of disease-related genes, and he introduced STS-content mapping which led to the first physical maps of whole human chromosomes.

Dr. Olson is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has been awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal, the City of Medicine Award, and the Gairdner Foundation International Award for his scientific contributions to the Human Genome Project.

Influenced by Watson’s book, Molecular Biology of the Gene, Olsen started working with the genome in the 1970’s. He met Jim Watson when they both served on Bruce Albert’s Committee of the National Research Council. Olsen also helped to organize several genome meetings at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory during the 1980s.