Recorded: 25 Jul 2003
Well, genome goes back a long while because we were interested in the genomes of bacteria. I mean bacterial viruses. So I’ve been interested in—you know, the total collection of genes present in a virus. And then there are, of course, the collection of genes present in a bacteria.
When I wrote The Molecular Biology of the Cell—I had a chapter [called] “A Chemist Looks at the Bacterial Cell,” so I was concerned about how when the different genes were—the minimal number of genes there would be in E. coli. Seeing the bacteria as a machine. How does the machine operate? So genome researchers would always would say the human gene collects from all the genes. So—that topic began to be discussed in 1985 when Dulbecco came here and said we should sequence the human genome at the dedication of Sambrook lab.
A member of the Time 100 ‘Century’s Greatest Minds’, Dr. James Watson’s life in science has taken him from the revolutionary discovery of the structure of DNA to the head of the National Institute of Health’s Human Genome Project, and places between.
Dr. Watson was born in 1928 in Chicago, and enrolled at the University of Chicago when he was just 15. His graduate studies in genetics with Salvador Luria took him to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for the first time in 1948. His graduate work would eventually bring him to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where, together with fellow scientists Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick and Dr. Watson would discover how the four-nucleotide bases arrange themselves to create the unique identities of each living organism. Their account of the structure of DNA, published in Nature, would win them the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology. Watson's bestselling account of his time at Cavendish, The Double Helix, was named the No. 7 best work of nonfiction by the Modern Library.
Watson spent two decades at Harvard University, where he penned the revolutionary biology textbook, Molecular Biology of the Gene in 1965. Dr. Watson's distinguished academic career led him to the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1968, where he has pushed the lab towards important steps in cancer research and the causes of mental disease. From 1988 to 1992, Dr. Watson was appointed to head the National Institute of Health in the Human Genome Project. Dr. Watons's genome was the first to be decoded and was made public as part of the project in 2007. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, he has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. After forty years as a brilliant educator and administrator, Dr. Watson retired as Chancellor of the laboratory in 2007.