Leroy Hood on 1986 Symposium: Molecular Biology of Homo Sapiens
  Leroy Hood     Biography    
Recorded: 29 May 2003

I think the meeting in 1986 reflected the general perspective that the biological community had, namely, enormous skepticism, about the human genome project and enormous concern for big science engulfing small science. Enormous concern because it wasn’t hypothesis driven, it was discovery driven. And, you know, the debates very, very sharply articulated all of those points of view.

And I think what the meeting today—this week actually demonstrates is how far the scientific community has come. I mean there are certainly a selection for people who are engaged and involved. But I think the world of biology as a whole now acknowledges the transformation that’s come as a consequence of the genome project and recognizes that it heralds a whole new world for biology.

Well, I think the most striking collections were, for example, the debates between David Botstein and Wally Gilbert about, you know, pro and con. And each of them in a very kind of passionate, articulate way outlining the merits and the advantages. I think that was probably one of the really defining moments in the meeting.

I think Wally’s point was that the genome project really was the Holy Grail. It was an opportunity to transform biology and we had to just step in and grasp that and move ahead. And I think David Botstein and the others that were skeptical of the genome project had fifty reasons why it wouldn’t work, why it shouldn’t work. It was a bad thing to do so, and those were all the arguments that got reflected in the community for the next, you know, three or four years until 1988 when the National Academy set up this pivotal committee with opponents and proponents to look into that whole question. And everyone was won over. Everyone agreed it was a good idea. I think that was the really deciding event that led to starting the project in 1990.

Leroy Hood, a leading scientist in molecular biotechnology and genomics, received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medical School (1964) and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Caltech (1968). In 1992, after more than 20 years as a faculty member at Caltech, where he and his colleagues revolutionized genomics by developing automated DNA sequencing, he relocated to the University of Washington to establish the cross-disciplinary Department of Molecular Biotechnology.

Dr. Hood is currently President of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle where he leads efforts to pioneer systems approaches to biology and medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Lasker Award for his studies on the mechanism of immune diversity.

Sharing an interest in the study of antibody diversity, Hood and Watson met in 1967 when Hood attended his first meeting at CSHL. Leroy has been working on the genome since the late 70’s. He went to the first official genome meeting in Santa Cruz in 1985 and has attended all of the subsequent meetings which have been held at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.