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Science  16 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5507, pp. 1196
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5507.1196

The Human Genome Project … In Their Own Words

From the outset, the proposal to map and sequence the human genome has sparked controversy and evoked strong emotions. The following quotes capture how the debate has shifted over the years.

Early debates

“It endangers all of us, especially the young researchers.”

David Botstein, Science, 27 June 1986

“The idea is gathering momentum. I shiver at the thought.”

David Baltimore, Science, 27 June 1986

“The idea of trudging through the genome sequence by sequence does not command wide and enthusiastic support in the U.K.”

Sydney Brenner, Science, 8 August 1986

“The total human sequence is the grail of human genetics.”

Walter Gilbert, Science, 27 June 1986

“It is clearly no longer a question of whether the project ought to be done, but of how fast it will be done.”

Russell Doolittle, Science, 13 February 1987

“I'm surprised consenting adults have been caught in public talking about it [sequencing the genome]. … It makes no sense.”

Robert Weinberg, New Scientist, 5 March 1987

“The sequence of the human genome would be perhaps the most powerful tool ever developed to explore the mysteries of human development and disease.”

Leroy Hood, Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 1987

Walter Gilbert declares he will copyright and sell DNA data

“The idea of the company is to be a service to the biotech and pharmaceutical industries and to the research community. … [The sequence data] would be made available to everyone—for a price.”

Walter Gilbert, Science, 24 July 1987

“This information is so important that it cannot be proprietary.”

C. Thomas Caskey, Science, 24 July 1987

“If a company behaves in what scientists believe is a socially responsible manner, they can't make a profit.”

Robert Cook-Deegan, Science, 24 July 1987

The publication of the “first” genetic map

“What they have accomplished is important. … But it is not what we believe should be properly called a map. … We would never have dreamed of making such a publication with our data set, which is substantially larger than theirs, because we still have significant gaps.”

Ray White, Science, 6 November 1987

“A map is a map. Our map has holes, we make no bones about it. … It is not Ray White's ideal, but so what?”

Helen Donis-Keller, Science, 6 November 1987

“It's a real shame that the only two groups in the world who are doing this haven't communicated and shared probes.”

Leroy Hood, Science, 6 November 1987

Support builds

“You can't be against getting this information; it is too fundamental.”

Charles Cantor, Science, 12 February 1988

“The argument against DOE is that while they talk about peer review, it is not clear that they do it. … [About NIH,] you can't have a lead agency that doesn't want to do it.”

Bruce Alberts, Science, 12 February 1988

Patent skirmishes

“I am horrified.”

James Watson, Science, 11 October 1991, on NIH's plans to patent J. Craig Venter's partial genes

“There is no coherent government policy [on gene patents] and we need one quick—since the sequence is just pouring out. It would be a big mistake to leave this one to the lawyers.”

David Galas, Science, 11 October 1991

Venter announces Celera

“It strikes me that this is a cream-skimming approach. It's clearly an attempt to short-circuit the hard problems and defer them to the [research] community at a very substantial cost.”

Robert Waterston, Science, 15 May 1998, p. 994

“I think it's great.”

David Cox, Science, 15 May 1998, p. 994

“Every time we talk, we move [the deadline] up.”

Robert Waterston, Science, 19 March 1999, p. 1832 on the new goal to produce a rough draft

“The scientific community thinks this is just a business project, and the business community thinks it's just a science project.”

J. Craig Venter, Science, 18 June 1999, p. 1906

“Why should I play by their rules when I am not getting a cent of federal money? Let me get this straight. I am being criticized for doing the work and giving it away free, but not giving it away fast enough?”

J. Craig Venter, interview with L. Roberts, 2 September 1999

The draft nears completion

“The change is so fundamental it is hard for even scientists to grasp.”

Maynard Olson, interview with L. Roberts, 16 November 1999

“Ten, 15 years from now, nobody is going to care about all this fuss and bother. They're going to care that we got the … human sequence done. … And all this back and forthing over who did what and what strategy was used and which money was public and which was private is probably going to sink below the radar screen. And hallelujah.”

Francis Collins, interview with L. Roberts, 19 August 1999

“We've called the human genome the blueprint, the Holy Grail, all sorts of things. It's a parts list. If I gave you the parts list for the Boeing 777 and it has 100,000 parts, I don't think you could screw it together, and you certainly wouldn't understand why it flew.”

Eric Lander, Millennium Evening at the White House, 14 October 1999

“Free will will not go out of style once the sequence is done.”

Francis Collins, interview with L. Roberts, 11 November 1999

“The prevailing view is that the genome is going to revolutionize biology, but in some ways, it's overhyped. In the end, the real insights are coming from individuals studying one gene at a time in real depth.”

Gerald Rubin, interview with E. Pennisi, May 2000

“If there is anything worth doing twice, it's the human genome.”

David Haussler, interview with E. Pennisi, July 2000

“Biology will never be the same.”

John Sulston, interview with E. Pennisi, February 2000

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