Ari Patrinos on Charles DeLisi’s Influence and the Appeal of the HGP
  Ari Patrinos     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Mar 2006

When I inherited the job that Charles DeLisi had, first in an acting capacity in 1993 with David Gallis in-between. Then eventually I got the job in’95, I inherited all the files from Charles DeLisi and David Gallis. All the early memos, even some of the earlier drafts of the various memos that were composed. And the famous memo that eventually was the memo that Charles DeLisi gave to his boss at the time, Al Trivelpiece, who was the director of the Office of Energy Research, which was in five, six pages explaining to him why, you know, this would be a great project to start. Why in terms of its relevance to D.O.E. and all the issue of the connection to radiation biology. Why D.O.E because of the capabilities at the national labs, especially the weapons laboratories with respect to the technologies and the computing that were there. And in the end, the potential impact of this project far beyond D.O.E. but also what it would do for medicine in general. It was an incredible memo because in many ways it said, you know, this will take about three billion dollars and we can do it in fifteen years. What’s uncanny is that he was right on!

Part of it was, of course, his [Charles DeLisi’s] own skills. Part of it was the circumstances. Part of it was just this seductive simplicity of the project when you could explain in just a few words. It was so easy to sell a political master on something that you could explain in an elevator ride from, you know, the first floor to the eighth floor, to the seventh floor where our political masters lived. And moreover, we ended up having a major champion on Capitol Hill. Who as we always say, Jim Watson is the father of the Human Genome Project, but on Capitol Hill the father of the Human Genome Project is Senator Pete Domenici who also very quickly became seduced by this notion. You know, he became seduced again by the simplicity. But also he saw a role for his national laboratory, you know, his favorite place, Los Alamos. All of a sudden it was something that he understood. He had a daughter with a health problem. So he always was very interested in new ways to understand human biology and new ways to deal with medicine. So he had many, many reasons why he could, in a sense, be seduced. Fall in love with such a project. I think it was the combination of things that clinched it and I think Charles DeLisi deserves a lot of credit because he seized the moment and wrote that memo that should rank among the most successful, you know, short memos that have been written that changed the world.

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.