Richard Gibbs on Jim Watson, Director of the HGP
  Richard Gibbs     Biography    
Recorded: 14 May 2004

I’m delighted to talk about Jim Watson. He is my hero. Jim Watson was the first leader of the international human genome center. It wasn’t yet an institute. It was a profound thing for all of us to know that he had taken the post. We, of course, knew that he had plenty to do. He was very engaged in Cold Spring Harbor. That he’s doing that was a real statement of stewardship that we all looked up to.

I think the choice of him was particularly appropriate because of his seniority and his stature in the field. It was a message to the whole group.

I remember a review meeting. I was a junior member—an ad hoc member—in an NIH grant review that was about sequencing technology and some of the other luminaries were arguing over some of the technical nuances when Jim came quietly into the room, and sat at the back, and the tone of the conversation changed, became more formal. Then he eventually interrupted it with a statement he’s probably used on many other occasions but the statement was, “I just want you to remember that we can afford a few failures. What we can’t afford is not to have a success.”

Richard A. Gibbs is currently the Director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the Wofford Cain Professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) in 1979 and a Ph.D. in Genetics and Radiation Biology in 1985 at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In 1990 he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, studying the molecular basis of human X-linked diseases and developing technologies for rapid genetic analysis. He developed several fundamental technologies for nucleic acid analysis. In 1991, he joined the BCM faculty and played a key role in the early planning and development phases of the Human Genome Project. In 1996, he established the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center when Baylor was chosen as one of six programs to complete the final phase of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Gibbs has also made significant contributions to the deciphering of the fly, mouse, dictyostelium, and rat genomes. Among the numerous awards and honors received by Dr. Gibbs, he was awarded the Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Excellence in Research Award in 2000.