Recorded: 28 May 2003
Well, there is genomics and there is genomics. In a very real sense I’ve always been working on genomics, if genomics is trying to enumerate all the genes of an organism and what they do for the organism. In that sense I started out doing bacterial phage research in my Ph.D. thesis which is in the middle sixties, and I was in fact involved in enumerating all the genes of the small phage P22 and figuring out what they do for the organism. And in that sense I’ve been doing genomics all my life.
And in fact the idea of the genome is an old idea, not a new idea. What’s new in genomics in the sense of trying to understand all the genes of the humans, let’s say, or Drosophila or yeast is that, of course, viruses have a hundred genes or so. Some of them have just a few, just a handful. Whereas the complexity of a free living organism like a bacterium or a yeast, let alone a human or alligator or Drosophila is much greater and the challenge therefore is one of—the challenge therefore is really one of complexity and quantity more than the basic idea of knowing all the genes and what they do. I first heard the word genome sometime in my elementary education in biology as a beginning graduate student. I’m sure it was a word that I used in my thesis which was published in 1967. So it was certainly—and I believe that, in fact I know, that in the 1968 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium we have a little note and I think that little note has genome in the title. So there certainly was a paper around ’68 or ’69 in which we talk about the bacterial genome.
David Botstein is a prominent geneticist whose advocacy for gene mapping was crucial in laying the groundwork for the Human Genome Project. Botstein received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan for his research on bacteriophage synthesis. As a member of the MIT faculty he continued working with phage P22 DNA and discovered many bacterial and yeast genes. He served as Vice President of Science at Genentech before becoming professor at the Stanford School of Medicine where he led in sequencing the first large eucaryotic genome.
On July 1, 2003 he was appointed as Director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. At Princeton he will continue to expound upon genome projects, explore the relationship between genes within the genome, and uncover how diseases like cancer alter the expression of genes.
Botstein researched at the CSHL while on sabbatical from 1974-1975. At the 1986 CSHL symposium on Human Genetics he played a crucial role in advocating for the Human Genome Project. While serving on the National Research Council Committee he emphasized that money be laid aside to fund the sequencing of other simpler organisms with which the human genome can be compared. Like Jim Watson, he has passionately supported the Human Genome Project since its inception.