Recorded: 08 May 2012
In 2008 or 2007, I can’t remember which, Steve O’Brien and I were chatting about what we could do to broaden the horizon of genome sequencing. Steve and I were on the Committee for the National Human Genome Research Institute to help select new sequences – sorry, new species – for genome sequencing, for whole genome sequencing and now this was an arduous process and the cost for sequencing a new species was millions of dollars, but despite that one of the hardest parts of the project was actually getting the tissues, getting everything, all of the permits worked out; validation that this was the species that it was claimed to be; making sure the tissues were stored adequately; working through the politics of organizing the community to agree on a particular species to, to sequence – these were enormous obstacles, as big as the multi-million dollar price tag in many ways. And Steve and I were chatting and projecting ahead to a time when genome sequencing would be cheap and remarking how this process, the process of organizing the tissue collection and deciding what to do, would not get any easier. So, we brought Oliver Rider in, who’s created the Frozen Zoo at San Diego, an absolutely spectacular scientist and the three of us decided that we would organize a meeting in which the major collectors of the world, people that had spent a lot of their lifetime collecting tissues from different vertebrae species could come together at Santa Cruz and do a joint analysis of the situation. We presented to them all of the latest genome sequencing techniques and did a technology curve and we had predicted that genome costs would drop into the few thousands of dollars in a matter of years and at first they were extremely skeptical, but by the end of the meeting they were actually quite enthusiastic and we got commitments to organize a database that ultimately consisted of sixteen-thousand different species of frozen tissue sample from each one and a community of scientists, we call it the Genome 10k Community of Scientists, who were willing to jump into this. We have all of the goodwill you could ever want, the only thing we lack is any funding [laughs]. So, once, once we get the money to do this…but I suppose the funders are sitting back and thinking ‘Well, if I did it this year it would cost this much, if I did it next year it would cost a lot less.’
So the community functions well, it’s a grassroots movement. We have webpages and discussion and we’ve organized the database! We’re ready to go! But the Beijing Genomics Institute did step forward and they did the first hundred on their own dime and we think it’s terrific. So we’re, we’re starting to see some of the first genome sequences organized and Steve did that, several negotiations and dealing with them and we, the Broad Institute would very much like to be involved and we’ve done a lot of planning with them and we’ve talked with the other genome institutes, Washington University and Baylor, they are very much involved, but part of it is funding, funding issues, right. There has to be some federal support for this or philanthropic support, I think would be the best so if we got to get the word out.
The community of scientists is ready to go and they’re all dedicated. And you talk, I mean my favorite people in the community are the people that are called, so called hunter-gatherers – they’re the people that spend weeks in the jungle to collect that one sample of that rare endangered vertebrae species that’s precious, that’s very precious material. They’re the experts. They understand the biology of these species better than anyone else.
…they have done an extraordinary job and they have an enormous contribution to make to the understanding of biology, evolution, the conservation of these species, and also just about how genomes work because by comparing ten-thousand genomes from different species, we’ll really see evolution in action. We will see the individual changes in genes and the regulation of different genes have actually driven specific lineage specific innovations.
David Haussler (born 1953) is an American bioinformatician known for his work leading the team that assembled the first human genome sequence in the race to complete the Human Genome Project and subsequently for comparative genome analysis that deepens understanding the molecular function and evolution of the genome. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, professor of biomolecular engineering and director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz, director of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) on the UC Santa Cruz campus, and a consulting professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and UC San Francisco Biopharmaceutical Sciences Department.