Michael Morgan on Building the Wellcome Genome Campus & Sanger Institute
  Michael Morgan     Biography    
Recorded: 08 May 2008

So that would have been at the end of the ‘80’s. And, of course, it then became – it came in all sorts of directions because when we agreed to set John Sulston up in the U.K. , it was clear to me at least that we couldn’t do this through a grant to a university. No university could handle the money necessary. No university could move quickly enough to put up a building and so on and so forth. Though John and I went to a number of places when we were discussing how we were going to set this up. We went to the University of Edinburgh. We toured the University of Cambridge, “blah de blah”. It became clear that might take 5 years to get anything to happen.

So then we started looking at sites around Cambridge where we could build something or convert something. And I remember John Sulston taking me to a chicken farm where he was convinced that these huts that used to house chickens could be converted to sequencing centers. And I said, John, you can’t put people in these. But eventually he found this industrial site at Hinxton which we leased for a year. It had been owned by Tube Investments, which was an engineering firm with engineering buildings and chemistry buildings on the site and it had been bought by a property developing company who were going to knock everything down. They got permission to do this and build three big office blocks. So to turn it into a sort of a business park. And that happened around about 1984 or ‘85 time that sort of time when there was a slump and a recession. And they couldn’t sell it they couldn’t lease it.

There were no likely tenants to move in so they put it back on the market and we leased it for a year in order to use these old chemistry and physics buildings to set up sequencing. And it became very clear that a year wasn’t going to be long enough to do this job. So I persuaded the Trust to buy the site. And then at that time they were discussing in Europe what to do about bioinformatics and two groups came together and convinced various European bodies that there needed to be a European bioinformatics institute and then again it became clear to me and to others the best place for that bioinformatics institute would be up against what was eventually become the Sanger Centre.

So then it began to sort of build up a head of steam and a concept and I was determined that we were going to make a statement about the value the Wellcome Trust had and maybe society should have in science. And then instead of putting up some crappy buildings, we should do something special. And so what did I do in order to do that? We went to various architect firms. We found an architect eventually that we felt we could work with – but they had never built, none of them had ever built anything in academic science for years– the only buildings that had gone up in the U.K. in recent years doing biological sciences were within the pharmaceutical industry and that certainly wasn’t the type of building and atmosphere that I wanted to see.

And so we got in touch with Howard Hughes who at that time had just built buildings all over the place because they had been fined 90 million dollars I think it was or something and they had to get rid of it, so their architect took us around some of their buildings. They took us to the Salk Institute and the final crème for all of this cake was to come, I think that the chairman of the Trust joined us and we came to Cold Spring Harbor because I knew this was the model. And so, of course, Jim was involved with in that – so there’s been quite an involvement then the Trust and Jim and the folk here which is now, as you know, there are Wellcome Trust Genome Campus Cold Spring Harbor meetings. They swap over. So I was very pleased to see that develop and then obviously through the human genome sequence itself there has been lots and lots of connections which have brought me here basically on an annual basis.

Michael Morgan, currently professor emeritus of biology, specialized in plant ecology and bioclimatology. He earned his BA from Butler University, MS and Ph.D form University of Illinois. He received the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Founders's Association Award for Excellence in Teaching and Sabbatical during the 1991-92 academic year with the Conservation Research Group, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Michael Morgan is a member of American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ecological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Sciences, Society for Conservation Biology and Natural Areas Association.

More Information: UWGB