Recorded: 30 May 2003
Well, this meeting is like many scientific conferences in that most of what people are reporting here are tiny, incremental advances. That’s certainly a valid scientific purpose but it may be hard for me to find anything to report to the general reader, who is more interested in the big picture, not the details. So I will have to find some other way of making the events here interesting for the reader. Probably I will focus on the results of Ewan Birney's bet that he is going to announce this evening. As you know, at this conference three years ago, when work on sequencing the human genome had just begun, he invited participants to lay bets on how many genes the human genome would be found to have.
The idea of a bet is familiar and interesting to general readers, so I will probably use that as a way in to talking about more serious matters, such as how far behind we are in understanding how the whole genome works. I may also tell readers about the interesting clash of cultures which is visible at the conference, the one between all the new people coming into bioinformatics who are very confident in the power of clever gene finding programs, and the experimentalists who don't trust the gene finding programs at all.
Birney is himself a gene finder. So the fact that he cannot award his prize this evening - he's told me he will announce that no winner can be declared since we don't have the answer to how many genes there are, nor will we for several more years - shows you how far the gene finders have fallen behind where they had hoped to be by now. So that's how probably I will write the story up. Any scientist who's been to this conference and reads such an article will think, "Well, that's just a small slice of what went on". And that will be true. But it’s the only way a journalist can give general readers a taste of what is being cooked up here.
Nicholas Wade received a B.A. in natural sciences from King's College in Cambridge (1964). He was deputy editor of (italics) Nature magazine in London and then became that journal's Washington correspondent. He joined (italics) Science magazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to (italics)The New York Times, where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating his writing on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and science editor. He is the author or coauthor of several books including (italics) LIFE SCRIPT: How The Human Genome Discoveries Will Transform Medicine And Enhance Your Health (2002).
Covering the Human Genome Project for the (italics) New York Times since 1990, Wade has interviewed Watson on various occasions and visited Cold Spring Harbor for the annual Genome symposium.