Richard Myers on Human Genome Project: Defining Populations
  Richard Myers     Biography    
Recorded: 29 May 2003

The interesting thing about… Well first of all, what defines a population? What most of these studies, what people have tried to do is to go in and get what they would call an indigenous population. So if you were going to say, “I want to study people from the British Isles” you’re really trying to think about people who have been there for many generations. So you wouldn’t take the recent Pakistani immigrants. In fact if you studied them you’d take them from Pakistan, or you’d refer to them as being from that part of Asia. And so the same is true for the United States or for the Americas in general. I mean the Americas are hugely populated by people of European, and African, and Asian origin for that matter, with Native Americans being obviously a minority in terms of the numbers. So in the few populations that we had in the Human Genome Diversity Project that were “American”, they were Native American population. And that goes the world over.

Well, I’m not an absolute expert in this. But when you go and you ask, so how do find out where somebody’s from if you’re going to study them. And a lot of times people don’t know their ancestry very well. They think that, or they have it mixed up. They think they’re Greek when they actually might be something else for instance. Stuff like that happens all the time. One of the best indicators in the way that both the HGDP project as well as several that we’ve done since then, or that I’ve worked on since then, is you ask the individuals where both sets of grandparents come from. And while sometimes people don’t know, if they’re completely ambiguous about that you might not want to use them in your study because that just will confound the results. So you do your best that way.

We did a study outside of the HGDP, where we had individuals from all around Europe, and genotyped them on hundreds of thousands of markers. And what we found when we did that is that the occasional person who thought they were from a particular region would have some ancestry from another part often, usually another part of Europe. And sure enough in a couple of cases there were a few outliers like that in a couple of cases when the individuals were, when the researchers that we worked with who had studied these individuals, or worked with these individuals, when they went back to them they delved a little bit into their ancestry and realized they had a great-grandmother or something who was Russian when they thought they were 100% French. That happened a couple of times, and things like that.

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.