Recorded: 28 May 2003
What surprised me the most about the human genome project is the speed with which it was done. I think the basic idea as I’ve tried to explain is not a new idea. The phage we had in mind understanding all the genes in an organism and figuring out what they do. However, the quantity of human DNA and the amount of work that would be required to get the sequence or you can get a sensible interpretation or something that no one could have foreseen in 1967. And in fact I think that the real—really remarkable thing is the speed with which technology has made it possible. And of course the chief technology that made it possible and one which is always sort of glossed over in this business is the technology of the computer because there were no computers in the modern sense in the sixties. They were just getting started. And computation in the sense of Internet and stuff like that is barely fifteen years old. So without that there would have been no human genome project. We still wouldn’t be talking the way we are. And I think that much of what people talk about doesn’t take that into account.
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.