Eric Lander on Dangers of Genome Research
  Eric Lander     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Jun 2003

What are the dangers that come from the genome research? I mean there's always-the dangers are knowing too much. What do I mean by knowing too much? I mean, the more you know, the more you can do and the more you can do stupid things. You know, it's always a problem. That's not a reason not to know. But knowledge is power and as we gain more and more knowledge we have more and more power to do things and therefore there is a much broader range of stupid things we could choose to do. So I'm not in favor of stopping learning this stuff because there's also a much vaster range of smart things we can do and compassionate things we can do and interesting things we can do. But it means we have to work harder and harder to put in place protections. Protections against privacy, protections against-I still confess to very strong feelings about tampering with the human germ line now. I mean, I know Jim Watson says, "Let's go do it!" I'm willing to compromise on maybe someday. But I'd be very happy to have a moratorium right now because we don't know what in the world we're doing. We're going to make trouble and it's going to get out there and backfire on us.

I mean I think we need to approach this with some humility. We've only been looking at this genome for, I don't know, a couple of years or a decade or whatever you want to count. And it's been the product of three and a half billion years of evolution and we're out of our minds to say we understand it very well right now.

So, yeah, there's always these sorts of issues. I'm concerned that we're not putting enough protections in place yet about it. We don't even have the legal protections around privacy, but there's no reason we can't get this right. I mean the scientists now because we're producing a hundred or a thousand times as much data per year as we used to. It means we have to be much more passionate and vigorous in making sure we don't do stupid things with it.

Eric Lander earned his A.B. in mathematics from Princeton University (1978) and D.Phil. in mathematics as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University (1981).

He first came to the Whitehead Institute as a Whitehead Fellow in 1986, while still an assistant professor of managerial economics at the Harvard Business School and is currently Director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research and Professor of Biology at MIT. As director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research, Dr Lander has been one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, contributing 30 percent of the total sequence of the human genome and developing and making freely available many of the key tools used in modern mammalian genomics.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and has been awarded the Beckman Prize for Lab Automation, the Chiron Prize for Biotechnology, and the Gairdner Award for his outstanding contribution to genomic research.

Lander has attended every human genome meeting at CSHL. At the request of Jim Watson, Lander gave his first lecture at the 1986 CSHL symposium on the Molecular Biology of Homo Sapiens.