Recorded: 18 Aug 2003
Well, we hadn’t reached the stage of even thinking about a director, because we didn’t really have it in place. But at the end of the Reston meeting when things had gone very well. And David Baltimore had written a very strong letter of support, it seemed likely that we were going to get to that stage, so immediately the genetics community began to caucus. And they must have talked about other names too, but their first choice was Jim Watson. And when they presented him to me, I didn’t even have a list of three. I had a list of one. If he hadn’t been willing to do it, I would have had to consider other people. And there were other names. I won’t mention them now because it might not reflect well on the individuals. But there were a number of other names that by that time I had thought of, or had been suggested.
By the time I spoke with him, they had spoken with him. I mean when they came to see me, they had already touched base with him [whether he] would be willing to consider it. And he said yes, if the conditions were right, he would. So they came to see me. And I was really astounded. I mean I did not at that point think we would have gotten Jim Watson to do this.
James B. Wyngaarden is a medical doctor, biochemist and medical science advisor. He served as director of the National Institutes of Health, associate director for Life Sciences in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, and as director of the Human Genome Organization. Wyngaarden is currently part of the Washington Advisory Group, LLC and director of four biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies. Wyngaarden is also co-author of the textbook The Metabolic Basis of Inherited Disease.
He researches the regulation of purine biosynthesis, the production of uric acid and he helped initiate the use of allopurinol, a drug developed as an anticancer agent and now used as a treatment for gout.
While serving as director of the National Institutes of Heath, he enlisted the help of Dr. Watson in 1988 to begin the Human Genome Project. Jim obliged and joined the NIH as the associate director for Human Genome Research, while still acting as director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.