Recorded: 31 May 2003
Rick Myers: It’s an interesting way that it developed because David really has, he likes to dream of big things. And he had been dreaming long before I got there and had something that he was just hell bent on doing. And this was to develop a new method to make it possible to map genomes at very high resolution. And that’s when I was first getting into the field. And even though I didn’t know a lot about it, I knew that this was a really hard problem. Ideas that we needed a guy from the molecular biologist’s thinking about a thousand base pairs to the genomic level where we needed to think about many millions of base pairs. And we just didn’t really know how to do that, even think about it.
David Cox: It was a mapping problem. No one actually early on in the genome project, I don’t think any of the scientists early on really believed that we would ever get the whole sequence of the genome. But they did believe that that was a fine dream. And that at least, you know, we would be able to map it out and be able to do better things. And early on that was really everyone sort of bought into that. Jim actually changed that when from the very beginning that’s what people thought. And so this was approach, a global approach to doing the mapping in that the—I may have had the ideas and done some stuff, but that Rick basically is a great executor. I mean not killing people, but actually getting things done. Well, you’re good at that too. So that was the combination. You know, Rick is fantastic in the lab with his hands. And he knows other people that are good and so together that was the real part. We were able to execute this idea. And that Rick is the one that came up with the name of radiation hybrid mapping. So he does all sorts of things, you know. He executes, names things.
Rick Myers: Well, I do want to say that David’s tenacity at sticking to this; there had been two major things, two or three major things that have been his dreams. And the fact that he wont’ let go of those dreams. To make them happen is, I think the real strength, and RH mapping was one of those. It wasn’t extremely risky, but I think a lot of people thought, well this may or may not work. It was based on an idea and an approach that people in England had done many years before.
David Cox: Yeah, Henry Harris had done it. But that it didn’t work out quite right. And actually this is a lot of what Rick and I have done scientifically is to take ideas that, you know, we weren’t’ the first ones to think about them. But that other people had discarded them because they hadn’t carried them through to completion. And by just looking at it in greater detail what you could do, and with the advent, the change in extra time led to new molecular technologies so you could resurrect these ideas that were in this case twenty-five or thirty years old and with the new technologies make them happen and apply them. But that the standard knowledge in science was, well these things just didn’t work. But that almost all good ideas in genetics had already been thought of. That’s always the case. And no one reads papers older than three years old. So if you read those papers I often say, you know, that that’s how you get famous in genetics is that you read an old paper rename it, you know, and then people think you did it.
But I think there’s a message in this which is that things that are common knowledge as being insufficient to provide a solution is that as new technology comes along is that they should always be revisited because they are good ideas. And they may actually now be solvable when they weren’t before. And that’s true actually for almost everything we’ve done.
Rick Myers: That’s right, that’s right. So that was one of David’s major dreams. And the other one was to use genetics to find variation and to really apply that to try to find mostly human disease contributors, but traits in general. And he stuck to that too. And as we all hear he’s doing that in a big 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.