Philip Green on Surprises in the HGP
  Philip Green     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

I guess, in a sense, I never knew what to expect next. So you could say I was never really surprised because I was always expecting something unexpected. Early on, I suppose, I was kind of skeptical, actually, that it would work out thinking about where we were and where we needed to get to in terms of the scale. And, in particular, I guess I was concerned that scientists are not used to managing huge data production operations or huge operations of any sort, at least I went into science really because of my love of the subject and not because I saw this as a way to build up a large group of people who will be carrying out things that I asked them to do.

And I guess I was skeptical that when it came time to really scale up the operation, that scientists would be very effective at doing that. And it was surprising that they were effective at doing that. And for many of the directors of the large scale projects, it was also impressive to me that they managed to maintain an interest in the details of what was going on in the lab. I mean, I clearly remember Bob Waterson, even as the sequencing center in St. Louis was getting larger and larger, he would still go into the lab, troubleshoot problems that arose. He was in charge of the library making for a period of time, and so the ability of scientist to be able to balance those—staying involved in the science and yet running very large operations, I was impressed by that and I found it to be surprising.

I felt there was a big danger that—first of all, that there would be inefficiencies in doing the draft, which there were. But more seriously, I was worried that once the draft existed, it would really remove the incentive for people to finish the genome. And, fortunately, I turned out to be wrong about that. I guess I might say that was another surprise, a pleasant surprise, about the project which is that once the draft was done, people did not diminish their effort to get the finished sequence. And they really do have a very superb sequence now. There is still some more to do, but it’s actually impressive how good it is now.

Philip Green is a professor of genome sciences, an adjunct professor of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of Washington, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and was recently elected into the National Academy of Sciences.

Green designs software packages which aid in making genetic maps and identifying genes within the genome. He is concerned with constructing computational tools to understand cell functioning at a molecular level. Green has created the program Phred, which manages the data generated by the Human Genome Project and which is being used to help determine the most common variations in human DNA. Green’s laboratory is working to construct a gene-annotated genome sequence. His lab has modified the number of genes thought to be in the human genome—it is substantially fewer than had been previously believed.

Green spoke at the 68th Cold Spring Harbor Symposium focused on the Genome of Homo Sapiens.