Aravinda Chakravarti on Dangers of Genomic Research
  Aravinda Chakravarti     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

I think there are always dangers. There are some that I am particularly concerned about right now. And they have to do with the fact that any field after a while when it becomes exceedingly successful, despite all this great excitement, despite the correctness of the excitement, also becomes in a little way orthodox. That people decide that this is the only way to do the science, or this is the only other way to generate data in a particular way to answer a biological question. So my concern is that the tremendous early success might become hardened. And people will believe that these are the only ways of doing things. And if that happens in either human genetics or genomics, it will not be a very interesting field. And I think that’s a great danger to the field.

The other is that the largeness of genome projects, still in the minds of most biologists, I think correctly, is that the genome projects are very large investment of money and space and resource, people mostly, to try and solve some particular question. I feel it is more important to think that there are technologies that we can think of that allows and should allow, and will allow individual scientists to, for example, scan entire genomes for the structure or function. So the model is that if one thinks of microarrays, for example, as a way where we can look at entire cells worth of gene activity, then I think the genome projects are going to become more and more successful. It might even be limitless because we are so much at the beginning of trying to understand what the structure and function of even a few cells are. If it becomes or goes the way of becoming very large entrenched projects, I wouldn’t be very interested, and I presume that many biologists would not be very interested. At this point in time, I think it might be necessary because we are so ignorant we need quite a bit of biological information to decide and design our next experiments. So then the biggest danger is this orthodoxy, and hopefully if the field remains in attitude young and we can throw off our failures or say this is not the way we should do things, but we can do more and more biology using fewer and fewer resources, than it becomes ultimately the realm of a single investigator or a few small groups of investigators. This will be a vibrant field for a very, very long time.

Aravinda Chakravarti received his Ph.D. in Human Genetics from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston (1979). After a postdoctoral year at the University of Washington in Seattle, he joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Biostatistics and later the Department of Human Genetics as a professor.

In 1994 he moved to Case Western Reserve as Professor of Genetics and Medicine to apply genomic and computer-based methods to study common diseases that arise from a combination of genetic and non-genetic factors.

Dr Chakravarti is one of the Editors-in-Chief of Genome Research, and serves on the Advisory and Editorial Boards of numerous national and international journals and societies. He is a past member of the NIH National Advisory Council of the National Human Genome Research Institute and has chaired the NIH Subcommittee in the 3rd 5-year Genome Project Plan, and continues to serve on several NIH panels.

In 2000 he became Professor of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and was named director of their new McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, where he is currently the Henry J. Knott Professor and Director.