Myers & Cox on Challenges of the HGP
  Myers & Cox     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

Rick Myers: So when we first started we had no idea what we were doing because it was such a different way to do things. And basically we had a whole bunch of people who had to get to know each other, this sort of community. It wasn’t a large group, but a community. I mean we actually kind of got sick of each other. I don’t know how many meetings we must have had, a half dozen a year where we would all be together. And in the early days there was a lot of jockeying for position and I don’t know if its politics in a sense, but jockeying for resources. And there were times where it just got kind of vicious. And that part was not fun at all.

I would say during the early days, I really wondered whether we would ever get there. During the middle days in the mid 1990s, it was still rough and the technology still wasn’t there, at least for the sequencing part. And there was a part in the middle there where unfortunately people forgot about mapping. They didn’t forget. They shunned mapping. The leadership and the rest of the people thought, most of the people in the field thought that we didn’t need to do this. And you know there are ways of sequencing without mapping, but you still need maps for lots and lots of other reasons. And then you can see at this meeting there’s talks about mapping still. I mean it didn’t go away. He stuck with it, but there were some rough times where it wasn’t clear [and] not just lack of funding, but lack of interest in actually making it happen.

So there have been on and off many, many rough times. I will say, David and I were talking about this earlier, I will say the last three years, where we really ramped up and did the sequencing, yes, there were still some rough spots, but for the most part that was much more cooperative. We really had a sense of purpose and mission together on doing this. And I don’t think it would have been pulled off had that not happened.

David Cox: The hardest part—and so the first, you know, genome mapping and sequencing meetings at Cold Spring Harbor is that everyone got up and said, you know, their brilliant idea of how they were going to map or how they were going to sequence a hundred times faster. That was the first year.

Mila Pollock: You mean in 1996 or 1990?

Rick Myers: 1990.

David Cox: Yeah, around 1990. Yeah, the first year of the meetings here, or ’89. It was ’89. The second year, right, the same people got up, right, and they said, you know, how they are going to change the world and do it. And then some other people got up and showed data. The third year, the same people got up and said how they were going to like revolutionize the world, and the people that showed data the previous year had expanded their data tenfold. The fourth year the people that had talked the first three years without any data didn’t talk anymore. So that’s how you knew you had progress.

But in keeping with that, then there were fewer and fewer people generating the data. So the hard part of it is that it became less inclusive and more exclusive. Now this had to be the case in order to have a big project being done. But that; it really pissed a lot of people off because they felt that they were being excluded and that all of their ideas weren’t being heard.

Rick Myers: And frankly it wasn’t dealt with in a very gracious way.

David Cox: Exactly.

Rick Myers: And that was part of the problem.

David Cox: So I think this was the tension in the genome project. And it became even more the case as the resources were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. So the mechanism by which that took place I think, I wouldn’t want, you know, both Jim and Francis—I think Jim didn’t have to deal with this as much as Francis did because at the time when Jim was director it was still at this place where we were still trying to see. Francis had the heavy lifting to do of figuring out how to not distribute all of the resources equally across everybody because the project never would have gotten done.

On the other hand is that all the other experts who were doing the peer review of the science were the same people that were getting the money. So this was a real conflict of interest problem. But, yeah, you had to have the experts do it. So that I think that this was an unusual situation for science of how to, at least for biological science, of how to have this kind of have the same people being doing the reviewing as had their, you know, nose in the trough.

Rick Myers: I will say that in the recent years that’s gotten better because they’ve gotten more people who understand and have expertise who are not actually being funded. I mean, partly because they’re paring down. I mean that’s one reason. And I’ve Seen and participated in some of those by and I’m not actually funded by that agency. I’m funded by another agency, so it’s easier to be, you know, be involved but lots of other people now. But in the early days there weren’t any other people that was part of the— [interrupted].

David Cox received B.A. and M.S. degrees from Brown University and M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. From 1980 to 1993, Dr. Cox held faculty positions in the Departments of Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. In 1993, he became Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as the Co-director of the Stanford Genome Center.

Dr Cox was a co-founder of Perlegen, and has been Chief Scientific Officer of the Company since its formation in 2001. He has served on several international and national councils and commissions including the Council of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). He presently serves as a member of the Health Sciences Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine. Dr Cox's honors include election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cox was a member of one of the first groups to begin sequencing the human genome. His relationship with Watson developed from his interest in Cox’s innovative approach to sequencing, called radiation hybrid mapping.

He attended the 68th Cold Spring Harbor symposium to celebrate the completion of the rough draft of the human sequence.

Richard Myers, biochemist and geneticist, is currently Director of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama.

Following his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Alabama (B.S., 1977), Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley (1982) with Robert Tjian. His postdoctoral work was performed at Harvard University with Tom Maniatis. In 1986 he joined the faculty of the University of California at San Francisco, and remained there until 1993 when he moved to Stanford University School of Medicine. He had been Professor and Chair of the Department of Genetics and Director of the Stanford Human Genome Center until July 2008 when he was named to his current position.

Dr. Myers is a member of numerous committees concerned with human genetic diseases and the Human Genome Project including the Genome Resources and Sequencing Prioritization Panel (GRASPP) and is Chair of the Genome Research Review Committee of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. He is also a member of the Biology and Biotechnology Program Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Myers has received numerous awards including the Pritzker Foundation Award (2002), the Darden Lecture Award from the University of Alabama (2002), the Wills Foundation Award (1986-2001) and was a Searle Scholar (1987-1990).

Myers was involved in every human genome meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and has attended CSHL symposia since 1986.