Eric Lander on Surprises in the HGP
  Eric Lander     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Jun 2003

What surprised me most? I mean, God, I live this thing every day. If there wasn't a day I didn't wake up and think about the to-do list for the human genome project! What surprised me most?

In the end, how satisfying it was personally. That-I went into the project as a relatively young scientist. I began to get into the human genome project at the age of thirty. At that point, you do things cause you're young and hotheaded and competitive and all sorts of things. Having now devoted fifteen years of my life to this, it's a very large piece of it and at some point I came to have-maybe about half way through-just a tremendous affection for the people, my colleagues doing it. A tremendous feeling like this was a purpose much greater than any of us, much bigger than me. It was the first time I felt like I was a part of something much more important than I was and with a much greater purpose and something that would live far beyond me. That was why when the Celera thing came along and Craig came along aiming to kill this, I probably reacted more strongly than anybody in the project, more violently in my reaction than anybody in the project because this mattered. It mattered to get right. It mattered because for me this was, you know, this was a calling in life and a purpose in life and nobody was going to go and screw it up like that and turn it into some private thing and not let us get the benefits from it.

So I guess I was surprised when we got to April and I realized just how much it meant to me. How proud I was. I brought my eleven year old with me to the celebration and I brought my daughter to the celebration at the White House of the draft. I brought my son to the celebration for the finished sequence. I was really proud of what we'd all done. It was great. There's so much more to go, but this was, you know, some huge mountain to be crossed. Now we've got this enormous valley to explore on the other side. For the group of us -it was probably in the end about a dozen people or so who lived every single piece of this over the course of those fifteen years -who went through all this and all argued with each other and worked with each other and learned to compromise in all sorts of ways. I can't imagine a more wonderful thing to have done in life. And that surprised me. I guess I didn't ever imagine that it would end up meaning so much.

Eric Lander earned his A.B. in mathematics from Princeton University (1978) and D.Phil. in mathematics as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University (1981).

He first came to the Whitehead Institute as a Whitehead Fellow in 1986, while still an assistant professor of managerial economics at the Harvard Business School and is currently Director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research and Professor of Biology at MIT. As director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research, Dr Lander has been one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, contributing 30 percent of the total sequence of the human genome and developing and making freely available many of the key tools used in modern mammalian genomics.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and has been awarded the Beckman Prize for Lab Automation, the Chiron Prize for Biotechnology, and the Gairdner Award for his outstanding contribution to genomic research.

Lander has attended every human genome meeting at CSHL. At the request of Jim Watson, Lander gave his first lecture at the 1986 CSHL symposium on the Molecular Biology of Homo Sapiens.