Maynard Olson on Government Involvement in the HGP
  Maynard Olson     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2003

Well, you know, all I can say about the genome project is that it was a great success of Congress. I think Congress doesn’t always get things right in science policy and got this right. And when I’m talking about Congress here and I’m talking about a relativity small number of senators and representatives that, you know, that were sufficiently respected by their colleagues in this area that they were able to lead. You know it’s not that there was massive interest in this project in congress. You don’t need—I mean it was only a three billion dollar project. And by—you know congress spends a lot of money. That was over fifteen years. It was—you know it was not a huge project by congresses standards. It was bi-partisan. It was never a partisan issue. There isn’t today—there was never a partisan issue. Their supporters were equally likely to be from the most conservative wing, someone like Jon Porter in the House, a very conservative congressman, Vernon Ehlers another very conservative congressman, strong supporters, Pete Domenici quite a conservative senator. Teddy Kennedy, you know, a very liberal senator. You know, [Tom] Harkin was a very liberal senator. So you know we had support across the political spectrum

And so—first of all they got it. They got it right away. Scientists you know didn’t get it. You know we hadn’t talked much about it. It’s been much discussed. I mean all this opposition within the scientific community to the Human Genome Project going back to that 1986 debate at Cold Spring Harbor and many other episodes. There were a lot of scientists that were just hostile, just hostile to the project. And that’s an interesting story. But the part that I’d focus on is that Congress was never interested in that. They saw this as big, you know, this is new, this is powerful. We want to be part of this. You know these guys they fight, you know, they stab each other in the back and so forth. But they are still human beings and they want to be able to tell their grandchildren that when I was in the senate I, you know, I pushed forward the human genome project. And they did. You know I had dinner just a few weeks ago with Dan Evans from Seattle. He was former governor of Washington and a United States senator from Washington and he is just sort of a distinguished senior statesman in Washington anyway. He just told me that it was just one of the things that he was just really proud of is that he chaired a hearing in the senate about the Human Genome Project and did his bit to really push it forward. They like that. They like this project. They got it. And they hung in even all these republicans in the late nineties that you know wanted to sell the national parks and so forth weren’t ready to give this project away to Celera or to anybody else.

Maynard V. Olson received his Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from California Institute of Technology and Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Stanford University (1970). After five years on the chemistry faculty at Dartmouth College, he shifted his research efforts to molecular genetics at Washington University in St Louis and the University of Washington in Seattle. He now serves as Director of the University of Washington Human Genome Center, Professor of Genetics and Medicine, and Adjunct Professor of Computer Science & Engineering.

A pioneer in genomic research, Dr. Olson launched the ultimately successful effort to construct a detailed physical map of the yeast genome in 1979. He also led efforts to develop yeast artificial chromosomes (YACs) that allowed for the study of large portions of the human genome and proved invaluable in the tracking of disease-related genes, and he introduced STS-content mapping which led to the first physical maps of whole human chromosomes.

Dr. Olson is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has been awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal, the City of Medicine Award, and the Gairdner Foundation International Award for his scientific contributions to the Human Genome Project.

Influenced by Watson’s book, Molecular Biology of the Gene, Olsen started working with the genome in the 1970’s. He met Jim Watson when they both served on Bruce Albert’s Committee of the National Research Council. Olsen also helped to organize several genome meetings at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory during the 1980s.