David Bentley on Challenges of the HGP: Communication Across Scientific Disciplines
  David Bentley     Biography    
Recorded: 14 May 2004

2004 is a very exciting time. On the one hand the human genome has just been finished. There have been great fanfares around the world and it has been great fun. Indeed something of a joke because we have managed to announce three years in a row that it has been completed or something was completed. Yet still the work goes on.

But the more important challenge of 2004 is that having completed a reference sequence of the human genome, most everybody in the field is moving into an area of almost complete unknown, complete unfamiliarity. We spent the last ten, fifteen years immersed in the genome or immersed in the work leading up to mapping and sequencing the human genome. Yet now all of us are turning to how to apply it, what does it mean? These are areas about which we know very little. There are plenty of other people around who know much more about it than we do although they don’t know the genome as well as we do. That perhaps exemplifies what we have to do at the moment. Certainly in my own field a tremendous number of new links, new collaborations and in particular collaborations between groups that almost talk different languages. It is a very fundamental question of communication and overcoming those barriers and explaining what we know in terms [understandable] to a group that is really unfamiliar with it. It’s a new form of communication. It’s quite different from a single field getting together every few months to discuss progress in the human genome. This is really trying to communicate at the interface and make something new out of previously existing knowledge. This is what is needed to really apply the human genome to disease, to apply it to understanding populations and to apply it to understanding other genomes and evolution. It’s an exciting time. It’s sometimes unnerving. That is a quality of science, I’m sure, and you never know when you are going to be plunged into a complete unknown. You have to be able to adjust to that and to really have the courage to go and find out something about the unknown or to find out somebody who does know what you don’t know in order to make progress. It’s not always easy. Certainly this is a time of great change and people can develop their own views and can and should change them as they learn more about the genome.

David Bentley, molecular biologist and geneticist, is currently Vice President and Chief Scientist of DNA Sequencing at Illumina, Inc., a commercial developer of genetic analysis tools and systems.

Educated at the University of Cambridge (M.A. in biochemistry) and the University of Oxford (Ph. D.), Dr. Bentley was a postdoctoral fellow, lecturer, and senior lecturer at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospital in London from 1991 to 1993 where he studied mutations that cause genetic diseases, and a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical & Molecular Genetics at the University of London.

In 1993 he was brought to Sanger Centre (now known as Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) as a founding member and head of human genetics by his mentor, John Sulston. Dr. Bentley led Sanger in their major contributions to the Human Genome Project, The Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) Consortium, and the International Haplotype Mapping (HapMap) Project. Dr. Bentley left Wellcome in 1985 to join commercial sequencer, Solexa, Inc., as Chief Scientist where he was responsible for the Company’s DNA sequencing applications development and projects. Solexa was acquired by Illumina in 2007.