David Bentley on Competition in Science
  David Bentley     Biography    
Recorded: 14 May 2004

I’ll tackle that in two ways. Clearly there has always been competition in science. Competitiveness can stimulate faster progress, greater commitment and real determination to solve problems. Potentially there can be too much competitition. Competition can at times, if it becomes very intense, perhaps fueled by a shortage of funding or uncertainly about the future, can lead to secretiveness.That’s a danger in competition.

I think one thing about the human genome in particular, not part of the field [but] as a whole of genome research, is the enormous cooperation right from the beginning and particularly from the first Bermuda meeting [1996] there really was a sense [of] my goodness, this is going to happen! It’s going to get done. It’s going to get done in the next ten years, whatever, a very short space of time. It’s far too big for anyone of us to do. I think that realization was there right at the outset. It fueled a necessity to cooperate and to share. Although the table was formed of—I don’t know how many were there, thirty people or so—perhaps each of whom was assessing their own position or the position of their country with respect to this project to be part of it or not. Did it conflict with other interests or indeed did it make them uncompetitive in other ways? I think that the will to cooperate was almost unanimous. I think that most everybody around that table voted to really be part of that, and committed and continued to commit to that level of cooperation and sharing. It’s quite clear in the human genome, maybe in many other areas as well, I don’t know, that we at times—it was quite hard at times. That one definitely had to put one’s own interest second and to look for what would make the project work best.

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.