Ron Plasterk on Beginnings of the Human Genome Project
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

In my recollection what happened was a couple of things. Alan Coulson was making a fingerprint map together with John of the worm genome, a clone map out of phages and cosmids and it wasn’t really getting there because there were too many gaps. Then Maynard Olson came and gave a lecture on yeast artificial chromosomes YACs he had just developed in St. Louis where he shared the floor with Bob Waterston. But Bob Waterston was doing a sabbatical in John Sulston’s lab. So then I remember the discussion in the pub and this was all pub discussion really and that’s where policy was made at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, I’m afraid. Bob Waterston saying, “Why don’t we make a YAC library of the worm genome.” John said well sure that sounds like a good idea why don’t we do that. So they did that. Bob did that while he was at Cambridge. I think that was the start of that collaboration and they learned to really trust each other. That was probably very important because later on with the human genome I think there would have been a lot of tension, a lot of pressure for the American project to move one way and the European project move the other way, but I think the mutual trust between Bob Waterston and John Sulston has been a very important axis in the Human Genome Project.

Ronald Plasterk, is a Dutch politician of the Labour Party and successful scientist and molecular genetics. He studied biology at the Leiden University and economics at the University of Amsterdam. In 1981 he received the Dutch doctorandus degree in biology. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in mathematics and natural sciences from the University of Leiden.

After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and worked as a post-doc (1985-1986) on the transposon sequences in DNA in the parasite Borrelia hermsii. Plasterk was also a post-doc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (1986-1987) where he studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode that is used as a model organism. His major area of research include genetics and functional genomics.

He came back to the Netherlands in 1987 and became a group leader and member of the board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 2000 he was director of the research school of oncology at the institute. From 1997 till 2000 he was professor of molecular genetics at the University of Amsterdam. In 2000 was appointed director of the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology (Hubrecht Laboratory) and at the same time he was a professor in developmental genetics at Utrecht University.

In February 2007 Ronald Plasterek was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende government and he decided to end his scientific career. He held this position until February 2010. He is a member of the House of Representatives and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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