Recorded: 31 May 2004
Clearly, John Sulston has always been a leader. Not just in genomics, but in other areas of science before that. And I think the true qualities of his leadership; they’re very fundamental to him. They are his own personal drive to the exclusion of other influences or diversion, I think. Perhaps exemplified in the subject for which he won his Nobel Prize, which was actually really closeting himself away so we understand. I never witnessed it.
But really determined at all costs that he would map out the fate of every cell in the nematode world. And that was a level of determination to get the job done and driven by a commitment to find out exactly what was happening and to make sure that he got it right. That is a quality which really translated itself, I think, to his leadership and his ability to take that determination through much later on—to establishing the Sanger Centre and to leading the U.K.’s part in the human genome project.
He once described himself, I think, in a meeting that he wouldn’t worry about the details. He was the sort of person that would really—whatever it took. He would perhaps drag himself through the hole in the hedge and emerge with leaves and twigs sticking from all over the place. But he would get through the hedge and he would get things through. And that determination was absolutely needed for the human genome project, many times over. And I think he approached everything with newness. He was not a highly trained leader. I think he simply used his own instincts throughout the time in both a very strong and determined way and also in an extremely altruistic way. I think that much of what we have, the altruism which pervaded the human genome certainly John contributed a very seminal part of that. And I think stimulated the same feelings in many others who led from different countries. And I think that was a tremendous binding force that really did a great deal to form and to maintain the cooperative nature of the human genome public domain community.
David Bentley, molecular biologist and geneticist, is currently Vice President and Chief Scientist of DNA Sequencing at Illumina, Inc., a commercial developer of genetic analysis tools and systems.
Educated at the University of Cambridge (M.A. in biochemistry) and the University of Oxford (Ph. D.), Dr. Bentley was a postdoctoral fellow, lecturer, and senior lecturer at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospital in London from 1991 to 1993 where he studied mutations that cause genetic diseases, and a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical & Molecular Genetics at the University of London.
In 1993 he was brought to Sanger Centre (now known as Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) as a founding member and head of human genetics by his mentor, John Sulston. Dr. Bentley led Sanger in their major contributions to the Human Genome Project, The Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) Consortium, and the International Haplotype Mapping (HapMap) Project. Dr. Bentley left Wellcome in 1985 to join commercial sequencer, Solexa, Inc., as Chief Scientist where he was responsible for the Company’s DNA sequencing applications development and projects. Solexa was acquired by Illumina in 2007.