Ron Plasterk on John Sulston and Jim Watson: Efforts to Make the Genome Sequence Public
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

In a way there’s no bigger contrast imaginable than the soft spoken modest Englishman John Sulston and the outspoken Jim Watson who likes to shock people and come up with stories and so they’re really very, very different. The interesting thing is that I can tell just from seeing that there is a very strong mutual respect, which has been very important because I think that Jim Watson recognized that Sulston was just such a great scientist and John Sulston recognized that Jim Watson in the United States had the influence and also the desire to make a difference in the right direction, meaning to make sure that the human genome was going to be sequenced in a public way. Looking back, there would be a strong pressure in the American Congress to say why would we spend American taxpayers money on sequencing the human genome if it can also be done in the private sector by Craig Venter’s company. I think the NIH would not have been able to keep it’s back straight if it had not had the argument that the Wellcome Trust and the English people were keeping their back straight. And it if hadn’t been for that we might have been in a situation where now the human genome sequence would not have been in the public domain. Of course the human genome, you can just now download the whole thing. You can do whatever you like, you can do all the bioinformatics you can treat all the data and you can dump it into your own website with all the adaptation you would like because it’s ours, its in the public domain. Just like the map of the stars and the heavens or the globe and the map of the world, that’s very important. We could have been in a situation where you could only download one mega base or you had to sign an NTA or what was really private property and I think both Watson and Sulston realized that that was not the way to go and they found each other.

Ronald Plasterk, is a Dutch politician of the Labour Party and successful scientist and molecular genetics. He studied biology at the Leiden University and economics at the University of Amsterdam. In 1981 he received the Dutch doctorandus degree in biology. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in mathematics and natural sciences from the University of Leiden.

After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and worked as a post-doc (1985-1986) on the transposon sequences in DNA in the parasite Borrelia hermsii. Plasterk was also a post-doc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (1986-1987) where he studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode that is used as a model organism. His major area of research include genetics and functional genomics.

He came back to the Netherlands in 1987 and became a group leader and member of the board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 2000 he was director of the research school of oncology at the institute. From 1997 till 2000 he was professor of molecular genetics at the University of Amsterdam. In 2000 was appointed director of the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology (Hubrecht Laboratory) and at the same time he was a professor in developmental genetics at Utrecht University.

In February 2007 Ronald Plasterek was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende government and he decided to end his scientific career. He held this position until February 2010. He is a member of the House of Representatives and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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