David Botstein on Genomics & Racial Differences
  David Botstein     Biography    
Recorded: 28 May 2003

I think the announcement by Howard University that they’re going to go forward and make this kind of collection for the reason that they gave in the New York Times anyway, that they didn’t want to be left out of medical research in the future is forward-looking. I think it’s a smart thing for them to have done. And I think it’s something which other ethnicities could well emulate. I think that the proper owners of the information about people are the people themselves. And if they get together on whatever basis to collect their own information, that’s I think by far the best solution. To the extent that this information is generally useful in a suitably anonymized way it will help all of us if all of these different groups share their information which, as far as I can make out, is everybody’s intention to do because this is not my company’s doing it. This is more about learning about one’s self. And so I think this is a great thing. There’s no question in my mind that there are ethnic differences and some of those will be genetic and, you know, there’s nothing we can do about that. Not understanding it is not a realistic option. So I think that understanding ourselves is a reasonable place to start and I applaud the Howard folks. I think they did the right thing.

I have been in the genetics teaching business for nearly forty years. And long before there was a general consciousness about DNA, there was a subset of people who were concerned about the idea that somehow you would justify prejudice by one or another scientific fact. I think that worry has always been around. I think that worry persists. I don’t think it has anything special to do with DNA and I don’t think that DNA has any special dangers. The problem is the prejudice and not the knowledge.

David Botstein is a prominent geneticist whose advocacy for gene mapping was crucial in laying the groundwork for the Human Genome Project. Botstein received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan for his research on bacteriophage synthesis. As a member of the MIT faculty he continued working with phage P22 DNA and discovered many bacterial and yeast genes. He served as Vice President of Science at Genentech before becoming professor at the Stanford School of Medicine where he led in sequencing the first large eucaryotic genome.

On July 1, 2003 he was appointed as Director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. At Princeton he will continue to expound upon genome projects, explore the relationship between genes within the genome, and uncover how diseases like cancer alter the expression of genes.

Botstein researched at the CSHL while on sabbatical from 1974-1975. At the 1986 CSHL symposium on Human Genetics he played a crucial role in advocating for the Human Genome Project. While serving on the National Research Council Committee he emphasized that money be laid aside to fund the sequencing of other simpler organisms with which the human genome can be compared. Like Jim Watson, he has passionately supported the Human Genome Project since its inception.