Charles Delisi on Surprises in the HGP
  Charles Delisi     Biography    
Recorded: 08 Sep 2003

Well, I think, the impact it’s going to have—of course, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by it because part of our initial justification was that this should impact the private sector and I think that’s going to happen. But as a scientist, scientifically what’s really exciting about it is that we’re now in a position—well, we’re still reductionistic in our approach to science. We’re away from this really simple minded, simplistic reductionism of one molecule at a time. And we’re now able to understand the cell as a system. So the idea of really beginning to understand how a cell functions and to begin to manipulate the cell and to begin to reverse engineer cells that are diseased, understand to go back from a complex set of effects to a simple cause and therefore identify gene targets. I mean that’s all extremely exciting. A lot of that obviously couldn’t have been foreseen at the time. We all knew that anything biological is a complex system. And it was being approached in the only way it could be approached; from the ground up one molecule at a time, but that was not going to ultimately get us anywhere. So that part of it I find very exciting. The fact that it’s happened as quickly.

Of course, its’ affected other things that I didn’t really think much about and foresee the effects on anthropology have been substantial. I mean human migrations, the understanding we now have of human migrations. The understanding we now have in relationship to ourselves and the African apes. That, in fact, humans are one of the African apes as closer to chimpanzees and bonobos that we are to the orangutans of Asia, for example. Migratory patterns are evolution have all become clear because we’re able to do so much genome sequencing now. And those are things that actually I didn’t think a whole lot about at the time. So these very broad range ramifications, of course, forensics obviously. All of this is forensics in one form or another has been major. This goes beyond, well beyond the biomedical science. The impact on agriculture. Of course, I think we anticipated some of that but not all of it. It’s substantial. So complex ramifications of this, yeah.

Charles DeLisi did pioneering work in theoretical and mathematical immunology. He received his Ph.D. in physics and did postdoctoral studies in the chemistry department at Yale University researching RNA structure. He became a theoretical physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and then moved to the National Institute of Health, where he worked on molecular and cell immunology for ten years.

DeLisi is currently director of the Biomolecular Systems Laboratory, Chair of the Bioinformatics Program, Metcalf Professor of Science and Engineering and Dean Emeritus of the College of Engineering at Boston University.

Charles DeLisi develops computational methods for high throughput genomic and proteomic analysis. His laboratory is helping to develop technologies for fingerprinting the complete molecular state of a cell. He is interested in finding computational methods for determining protein function and researches the structural basis of signal translation by membrane bound receptors, the structural basis of voltage gating, and the docking of peptide hormones and neurotransmitters at their sites of action.

In 1986, DeLisi and Watson met at a CSHL meeting and spoke about their interests in sequencing the human genome.