Gerald Rubin on Competition in Science
  Gerald Rubin     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

I think competition in science is generally good, if it’s constructive competition, friendly competition, rivalry as opposed to sort of destructive competition where people attack one another, try to sabotage one another.

So I think the genome project is actually less competitive than most other parts of science. I mean with a few exceptions. Obviouxly the Craig Venter versus the public. So I’m unusual because in the drosophila project, I had a grant from the genome institute and I collaborated with Craig Venter. And I was—everybody was happy in the end, I think. So it worked out very well. And I understand why the human genome may have been more complicated. But in general, genomics is less competitive because there aren’t many people who wanted to do the drosophila genome project. In fact, I didn't even want to do it. In fact, many times I would come to Cold Spring Harbor and Jim Watson would meet me on Bungtown Road. This was in the early days, the early 1990s when he was running the genome project. He said, “What’s wrong with the drosophila people. Why doesn’t anyone want to do the genome project? You should do the genome project. I need someone good in drosophila to do the genome project. Why won’t you do it?” And I said, “I’m not interested, Jim. Go find someone else.”

And it was really only in 1992, when I realized that there wasn’t going to be anyone else. And I shouldn’t complain that no one else is doing it, and that really I ought to get involved in doing it. I thought at first that I could just manage it, and get everyone else to do the work. And I could be a figurehead and not really do anything. And it ended up that I got more involved, and it took more and more of my time, which was fine. But it wasn’t like there were twenty people wanting to do the drosophila genome project. I think in most fields, maybe human was an exception, but there was John Sulston and Bob Waterston who wanted to do the worm. There weren’t like lots of other people. So it wasn’t competitive in that sense. And I think a certain amount of competitiveness drove the field forward. And I think everyone agrees, although it was unpleasant at times, the competitiveness between the public sector and Craig Venter in Celera made the project get done sooner. I don’t think anyone would think they would have the human genome now if it wasn’t for that, you know, competitiveness.

Certain people’s lives might have been more pleasant. They would have had more times to spend with their families, and they would have been more relaxed and less stressed out. But I think it made the project go faster.

Gerald Rubin is a geneticist, molecular and cell biologist. As Director of the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project, he led the sequencing of the entire fruit fly genome. Currently, as Vice President and Director of the Janelia Farm Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, his research focus is on developing the biological and computer tools that are capable of analyzing and displaying the vast amount of information available from the genomic DNA sequencing of the fruit fly. He uses these advanced techniques to decipher gene regulation and expression at a genome-wide level in Drosophila and determine the function of certain fruit fly genes.

Gerald Rubin is also a professor of Genetics and Development at the University of California, Berkeley. He came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as an URP (Undergraduate Research Program) in the early 70’s working under Lionel Crawford and Ray Gesteland before moving to Cambridge to earn his Ph.D. in molecular biology. He did postdoctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine and became an assistant professor of biological chemistry at Harvard Medical School prior to commencing his genetics professorship at Berkeley in 1983.

Gerald Rubin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. Among the awards he has received is the American Chemical Society Eli Lilly Award in biological chemistry.