Recorded: 08 Sep 2003
1986. It was after the Cold Spring Harbor meeting that I got in touch with him. And he, of course, was very eager to talk with me because he knew we were doing it. And I invited him to DOE. I told him we were doing—I think he had some doubts in his mind about whether DOE was the right place to do it. And in a certain sense he was right. In the sense that I stated before because I don’t think this project could have been brought to completion if only DOE were doing it. But DOE had an important role to play at the time. It was the agency that doing really high tech biology. We were used to being a physics organization. The organization was used to large scale projects. Not just large scale, but it was used to big equipment, spending a lot of money for infrastructure, and it was something that a lot of agencies, other agencies weren’t set up to do.
Not actually NIH has changed—I mean I believe that the genome project has had a big impact on the culture of the NIH Extramural program because if you look at what’s going on now, it’s just wonderful to see. They’re really putting a lot of money; their extramural program is putting a lot of money into computation which didn’t happen.
At the time Jim had reservations about DOE. And I think they were—instinctively they were the right types of things to be concerned about, but there were things that couldn’t be done easily by other agencies that we could do. I don’t mean “me.” I meant the department _____. I’m not there; I haven’t been there for fifteen years. But the Department of Energy could do things that couldn’t easily be done by them. And those involved large scale infrastructure types of projects, not doing investigative or initiated science, but by doing science that requires building a very complex and expensive infrastructure. And the department was set up to do that. And that was the main role, aside from the fact that it did have a health mission circumscribed, but it was there. So it had a role to play that was important and indeed that at the time was very necessary.
You know, we had very good conversations at the time. I mean he was very enthusiastic, is a very enthusiastic person. In fact, when I saw him in April, I said, “well, you’re the only person here that has two reasons to celebrate; the 50th anniversary and the genome project.” And he said,’Yeah, and the genome project is the more important of the two.”
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.