Myers & Cox on Division of Labor
  Myers & Cox     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

Rick Myers: Well, we had a lot of challenges. David’s right in that the crises probably were solidifying because we really had to get it done. I mean it’s interesting. Well, we stopped working together maybe three or four years ago and a lot of people said, did you guys have a falling out? And we’re as close as we’ve ever been. I mean we really don’t have—it wasn’t that. We got interested in somewhat different things and we also wanted to go in different venues. And that’s—

David Cox: But there’s another thing and Rick said this. So early on in our relationship is that we had sort of different niches. They weren’t only expertise niches. But they were sort of place in our career niches. Because I was older than Rick, right, so he was coming up. There was sort of, it was a division of labor. What happens as you get older is that Rick, you know, was a senior professor too. Then how you divide things up. It’s not as obvious. So things then got divided up based on our skill set. The reason, I mean, that the—

Rick Myers: And our interests, too. I mean, you know, one of the things we had set even though we clearly wanted to work together and we did, David always had something that he did that was more independent and I had something that was more independent. And also we did have an agreement that we always have to do everything together. We didn’t want to make it that way. I mean that would be too restrictive.

David Cox: But the split, Ricky, was when we were doing—as the genome project was going along was that mapping was no longer, you know, the thing. And the way our genome center was always divided up. Since Rick was the molecular person I barely knew, you know, how to draw the structure of DNA, is that Rick was the DNA sequencer. And so as mapping was no longer the important thing and sequencing was much more the important thing that’s how things were divided up. So ironically that’s when I started doing more stuff on variation. But we hadn’t talked early on, I mean Rick is world famous for the work that he did as a postdoctoral fellow with Tom Maniatis in discovering variation. I mean you were like one of the first people, Rick, in terms of using molecular stuff to do this. And using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Classic papers that Rick and Leonard Lerman and Tom did together. So that’s what Rick brought when he came to UCSF. He could have got a job any place in the world and so it was really—I was so happy when he actually came to UCSF because he brought this amazing skill set.

Rick Myers: And it was perfect for me because I had no idea how to apply it, where to apply it rather.

David Cox: That’s not completely true. But I mean—

Rick Myers: No, no, no. I kind of knew I wanted to work on genetic disease, but I mean I barely—David taught me a lot of human genetics. That was actually one of the really important parts about this. And there weren’t a lot of people at UCSF doing human genetic. So it wasn’t like there was big community here. That’s where I started learning about what kinds of problems you can apply these technologies for because I really didn’t know that when I was a postdoc and when I was first starting my lab. And that actually really changed the focus. I was doing very different things. Even though I wanted to start doing human genetics I had a very different plan for my sort of scientific career when I first started than I did within a few years after having now learned all these problems that we wanted to solve, for instance. Finding disease genes and figuring out what they do, for instance.

David Cox: So early on, you know when Rick came and had the skill set and, you know, he is famous from these papers working, you know, with Tom Maniatis and Leonard Lerman. So when he came to UCSF the way we applied the medical genetics and the human genetics approach with that technology was to study Huntington’s disease. And that was the first disease that we worked together. That was really complicated because at that time we weren’t really part, you know, of the international community doing Huntington’s. We were definitely on the outs of that because that—but we decided, you know, that it was an important problem and we wanted to work together on that anyway. And so that was the first sort of way we started combining our talents. Using the somatic cell genetics that I knew and the actually molecular mutation detection stuff that Rick knew. But that built into the genome project. But that was our early biology.

We didn’t end up identifying the Huntington’s gene, not because we didn’t work hard at it, but there was an interesting lesson in that. In that we had taken a series of cell lines that were key crossovers, key patients that helped to localize the gene. And with our molecular techniques we did a great job. We were just in the wrong part of the chromosome. So it illustrated that the clinical material and being sure about it is really important. But that was the basis of the biology of how we started doing stuff together. The irony of that is that when you went in and did the later times when we were doing the mapping and sequencing of the genome project is that as a result of what Rick came with with mutation detection, that’s what got me interested in variation. And so when the genome center switched over more to sequencing than mapping that’s when I became more and more interested in the variation and the SNPs. So it was completely synergistic of our interests that the—when we quit working together as closely it was more because—there were two factors; first, divergent interests, but also these different skill sets is that that I left Stanford because, as Rick said, I really wanted to be able to follow my dream in a way that I was having a hard time doing there. Rick became Chairman of Genetics at Stanford, but that’s not because he likes doing administration. That’s because he’s great at organizing and great at dealing with people.

Rick Myers: And I can’t say no.

David Cox: So that part was hard because as we changed as we got older is that our roles in the world changed. Not our relationship with one another. But the roles in the world made it so that we couldn’t have the same relationship, you know, as two young guys who pulled everything together and worked. What I value most about my relationship with Rick is that that relationship has always been the same and will never change.

Rick Myers: That’s right.

David Cox: And too often in science people have these relationships that really aren’t personal relationships. They’re a convenience. It’s a way at one point in time of working together so both people can get ahead. But that was actually never the basis of our relationship and we are very fortunate in that.

Rick Myers: That’s right. And a lot of people have commented about how interesting our relationship is because we’re so different from each other. I mean David and I have difference personalities, very different in just about everything.

David Cox: Every way.

David Cox received B.A. and M.S. degrees from Brown University and M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. From 1980 to 1993, Dr. Cox held faculty positions in the Departments of Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. In 1993, he became Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as the Co-director of the Stanford Genome Center.

Dr Cox was a co-founder of Perlegen, and has been Chief Scientific Officer of the Company since its formation in 2001. He has served on several international and national councils and commissions including the Council of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). He presently serves as a member of the Health Sciences Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine. Dr Cox's honors include election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cox was a member of one of the first groups to begin sequencing the human genome. His relationship with Watson developed from his interest in Cox’s innovative approach to sequencing, called radiation hybrid mapping.

He attended the 68th Cold Spring Harbor symposium to celebrate the completion of the rough draft of the human sequence.

Richard Myers, biochemist and geneticist, is currently Director of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama.

Following his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Alabama (B.S., 1977), Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley (1982) with Robert Tjian. His postdoctoral work was performed at Harvard University with Tom Maniatis. In 1986 he joined the faculty of the University of California at San Francisco, and remained there until 1993 when he moved to Stanford University School of Medicine. He had been Professor and Chair of the Department of Genetics and Director of the Stanford Human Genome Center until July 2008 when he was named to his current position.

Dr. Myers is a member of numerous committees concerned with human genetic diseases and the Human Genome Project including the Genome Resources and Sequencing Prioritization Panel (GRASPP) and is Chair of the Genome Research Review Committee of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. He is also a member of the Biology and Biotechnology Program Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Myers has received numerous awards including the Pritzker Foundation Award (2002), the Darden Lecture Award from the University of Alabama (2002), the Wills Foundation Award (1986-2001) and was a Searle Scholar (1987-1990).

Myers was involved in every human genome meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and has attended CSHL symposia since 1986.