David Haussler on Presenting The Human Genome
  David Haussler     Biography    
Recorded: 08 May 2012

So it turned out that Jim Kent’s assembly of the Human Genome finished on June 22nd, 2000 and the White House celebration was planned for June 26th, so that was four days before the actual ceremony and we found out through Jim – through Gene Myers afterwards, that the Celera assembly actually finished on the 24th, so we were both right up against the deadline. And of course there were a number of very, very important things to analyze about the genome if you’re presenting the first draft of the human genome to the world to see and so it was a very crazy weekend. And Francis Collins and the Santa Cruz group all of the other groups were on the phone all hours of the night, trying to ask fundamental questions: How many bases are in the assembly? So how big is it? How much DNA are we talking about? How many genes? How many… You know all of these things had to be counted at the last minutes and come up with some kind of summary and all the time we were trying to make sure that there wasn’t any, any systematic problems with the assembly. So, in the crazy rush I think to get, to get ready for the press conference and public release of the genome in Washington, we didn’t really think about one thing and that’s the main thing that distinguished us from Celera was not that our methodology was slightly different, but that we were planning to make the genome publicly available without restriction; whereas the Celera genome would require a paid subscription. And at the time that the celebrations and recognitions were happening in Washington, not a lot was said about the fact that our genome was really not yet available and because of the extraordinary role that Jim Kent played in assembling the genome on July 7th, 2000 we had the great honor of actually posting the genome on the World Wide Web. And this was after further discussion with the consortium, further examination of it, of course we had already announced so it better damn-well have been pretty good, and that was really the most exciting day of all for us because we posted the genome on the Internet, very rapidly through geek channels it spread out: ‘Hey, you can get the human genome for free, just download it from Santa Cruz.’ And usage spiked unbelievably. So the campus usage of total usage of Internet traffic like outbound Internet traffic is tiny compared to what happened in the next 24 hours. It literally dwarfed all previous records, we, we put out half a trillion bites of data from the campus and the machines worked flawlessly, we had prepared for a big demand, and we saw a demand like the campus had never, ever, close to seen before.

And we realized – we had this feeling of walking into history, this is it this is the world - the whole world is seeing its genetic heritage for the first time. Human kind is a product of 3.8 billion years of evolution. Here is this amazing sequence of information that had been crafted by all of the great triumphs and stumbles of all of our ancestors over so many eons and there it was. And for the first time we’re reading it, we can actually read the script of life that was passed down to us.

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.