Ari Patrinos on Opposition to Sequencing the Human Genome at the D.O.E.
  Ari Patrinos     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Mar 2006

Opposition from the NIH

There was never really any, I would say, suspicion or opposition on the part of the D.O.E. folks whether they were at headquarters or whether they were at the laboratories about the notion of sequencing the human genome. The Biology Program at the Department of Energy was—in some way the funding was guaranteed because there was always this concern about what radiation would do to human biology. So there wasn’t any sense that somehow if we started a large scale project like the Human Genome Project which would command significant resources that somehow this would take away from the radiation biology research. Even though that’s eventually what happened and for a very good reason. But there was never any concern. Moreover it is fair to say also that we were now living through the period where there was starting to be at least a sense of the downsizing of the nuclear complex. And therefore there was some anxiety that was shared across the D.O.E. complex whether it was at headquarters or across the national laboratories that the period of immense or huge amounts of resources for the weapons programs may come to an end. And a lot of those scientists who are involved in many of these projects all of a sudden would be without a specific mission.

And I remember frankly some of our colleagues at the NIH being particularly paranoid about this. And I also believe that partly the opposition that came about among some of our colleagues at NIH was because of their suspicion that the Human Genome Project was proposed by the D.O.E., and I’ll use some somewhat stark terms, as a workfare program for, you know, bomb scientists who were all of a sudden without jobs. I think it was an unfair statement but nevertheless some people felt that way; that D.O.E. was looking for another big project. Something that the capabilities at the labs could be harnessed for its application. And even though the Human Genome Project by itself would never be able to occupy so many people or use so many resources nevertheless it could be one of several projects that could give D.O.E. and its laboratories a new mission.

Ari Patrinos, currently is a president of Synthetic Genomics, Inc. He is best known for his leading roles in the development of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the U.S. Human Genome Project. He earned his undergraduate degree from the National Technical University of Athens and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and astronautical sciences from Northwestern University.

Patrinos has worked in Department of Energy (DOE) Laboratory system since 1973. His research area includes biomedical engineering, atmospheric turbulence, environmental chemistry, climate change, and statistical methods. In 1995 he became the Associate Director for Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science and was responsible for human and microbial genome programs, structural biology, nuclear medicine and health effects, global environmental change. He helped create the DOE's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in 1997 and developed the DOE's Genomes to Life Program.

He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Geophysical Union, and a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.