Francis Collins on Surprises in the Human Genome Project
  Francis Collins     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

I think the most amazing thing is that it’s done! When I started as the director of this enterprise in 1993 just about exactly ten years ago, I had enormous reservations about whether I was signing on to something that was doomed to failure. Why would anybody take on a role that already had a timetable defined that promised to reveal all of the letters of the human instruction book by 2005 without having any certainty of how to do it? And that’s where we were in 1993. We didn’t know whether we could accomplish this or not and yet it had already been laid out there as a goal. And there was going to be massive embarrassment on an international scale if this failed to come through.

So here we are saying it’s done. That’s just amazing! And it’s done really well. It really is!

Francis Collins earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Virginia (1970), a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Yale University (1974), and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina (1977). While a researcher at the University of Michigan (1984-1993), he pioneered “positional cloning” methods which resulted in the Collins team and their collaborators isolating the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis, and others.

In 1993 he accepted leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP) by becoming Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research (NHGRI). With Dr. Collins as head of the NHGRI, the HGP attained its goal of sequencing all 3 billion base pairs of the human genome.

He has attended all of the Cold Spring Harbor meetings on genomics.