Recorded: 31 May 2003
Well, I’ve never worked on the human genome, but I’ve worked on, I mean, I’m a geneticist. I’ve worked on genomes for fourteen years, but not in the molecular sense, mostly genetics.
I got involved in modern genomics in the—I’m very bad on dates, in the 1980’s with attempts first to map and then much later to sequence the genome of drosophila. So I’m a drosophila geneticist by trade.
But when methods became more developed for mapping genomes, not sequencing, but for mapping genomes, I got involved in an effort in Europe to map, make a physical map of the drosophila genome I think probably in the late ‘80s. I can’t remember the exact, maybe 1988. And that led eventually to the sequencing of the drosophila genome and we had a small project in Europe funded by European money. There’s a big project in the U.S. funded by the N.I.H. led by Gerry Rubin and then in May 1998, there was a major event here at the lab which is when Craig Venter announced that he was going to start a company to sequence the human genome, and that as a test he would sequence drosophila.
Michael Ashburner, a leader in Drosophila Genetics and bioinformatics, received his B.A. (1964), M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1968) and Sc.D. (1978) from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently professor of Biology in the Department of Genetics and a Professional Fellow of Churchill College.
He has been the joint head of European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and was co-founder of Flybase, the primary online database for Drosophila genetics and molecular biology, the Gene Ontology Consortium, an effort to coordinate biological databases through a defined taxonomy of gene function, and the Crete Meetings, a bi-annual event focusing on the developmental and molecular biology of Drosophila melanogaster.
Among many honors, he is the recipient of the G.J. Mendel Medal (Czech Republic 1998) and the George W. Beadle Medal (Genetics Society of America 1999).