Recorded: 30 May 2003
Well, I’ve interviewed the leaders of the major centers I guess. So that would be John Sulston in England which did the biggest chunk of the genome. And Bob Waterston at Wash U. and [Eric] Lander at the Whitehead and [Richard] Gibbs at Texas did a little bit of the genome so I talked to him as well. So I tried to talk to them all at the appropriate juncture. Well, I mean they are all driven by different things.
I mean Sulston and Waterston are worm biologists. So their original idea was to sequence the worm and to deliver a gift to their own community which indeed they did. I suspect they probably would have found sequencing the human genome a less pleasant experience because the worm genome they had all to themselves. But once they got into human biology, it’s much more competitive. There’s much more glory to had, there’s much more sort of sharp elbow. So they found themselves sort of competing with other centers for money. And if that wasn’t bad enough then Venter jumped into the picture so then they were competing with Venter. And it’s very hard work doing all of this sequencing. A lot of it is very boring. So they had to sort of turn themselves from being scientists into managers running these very large sequencing centers. Some of them run around the clock. So it was very versatile of them to sort of leap into this race and undertake a completely different task.
Lander, I think, is more—he’s a mathematician and a population biologist, so he’s sort of more interested in interpreting the genome. And Craig Venter is a, I think at heart he’s a genome sequencer. And he’s a wonderful technologist. He’s very good at sort of judging risks and knowing what he can do in terms of sequencing. But he’s not really—he doesn’t know very much about the biology of interpreting the genome. I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s sort of cold shouldered by Jim and the other people in the public consortium because they didn’t really regard him as one of them. And so they were infuriated when he tried to publish in the scientific literature, which is of course a way of claiming scientific credit. And they tried to stop him.
Nicholas Wade received a B.A. in natural sciences from King's College in Cambridge (1964). He was deputy editor of (italics) Nature magazine in London and then became that journal's Washington correspondent. He joined (italics) Science magazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to (italics)The New York Times, where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating his writing on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and science editor. He is the author or coauthor of several books including (italics) LIFE SCRIPT: How The Human Genome Discoveries Will Transform Medicine And Enhance Your Health (2002).
Covering the Human Genome Project for the (italics) New York Times since 1990, Wade has interviewed Watson on various occasions and visited Cold Spring Harbor for the annual Genome symposium.