Leroy Hood on Dangers of Genomic Research
  Leroy Hood     Biography    
Recorded: 29 May 2003

I think the dynamic tension between opportunity and challenges for society is always a part of any new kind of technology. And I think where we see it most acutely is where there is a disparity between our ability to predict the future health history of individuals and our ability to actually prevent those diseases from occurring. So if you can predict then there are these issues of genetic privacy and there are these issues of—well, who has access to this kind of information. And a whole variety of issues that actually disappear in large part once you have the preventive side of medicine because even if I tell you [that] you are predisposed to have ovarian cancer if we can give you a pill and you’ll never get it then that isn’t an issue that you’re going to have to deal with. But I think in every stage of biology new opportunities have created challenges for society to deal with in terms of ethical issues or social issues or legal issues. And my feeling is that that will continue into the future and I think what we have to get much better at is selling the opportunities and helping educate the public so they understand the challenges and can deal with them in a rational way. So one of the things we spend a lot of time at in Seattle is K through 12 science education. We actually have two terrific programs there. And the whole idea is you’d like to turn out kids not only that can move into an information based world and be prepared for the kinds of jobs that have this inquiry based analytic thinking and all, but those that can really rationally deal with the social, ethical, legal challenges. I mean genetically modified foods, genetic privacy, all the things that really are facing us. And the population as we see it today is very, very susceptible to these infinitely articulate demagogues who can be quite convincing in certain lines. So I think educating the public and particularly educating children is a responsibility that scientists are really going to have to take on.

Leroy Hood, a leading scientist in molecular biotechnology and genomics, received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medical School (1964) and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Caltech (1968). In 1992, after more than 20 years as a faculty member at Caltech, where he and his colleagues revolutionized genomics by developing automated DNA sequencing, he relocated to the University of Washington to establish the cross-disciplinary Department of Molecular Biotechnology.

Dr. Hood is currently President of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle where he leads efforts to pioneer systems approaches to biology and medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Lasker Award for his studies on the mechanism of immune diversity.

Sharing an interest in the study of antibody diversity, Hood and Watson met in 1967 when Hood attended his first meeting at CSHL. Leroy has been working on the genome since the late 70’s. He went to the first official genome meeting in Santa Cruz in 1985 and has attended all of the subsequent meetings which have been held at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.