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The Human Genome Project (Part 4)


The Human Genome Project (Part 3)
James Watson Scientist
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Craig moved on to cDNA, frustrated that he wasn't getting any money for sequencing. And so someone at NIH, Reid Adler was their lawyer, somehow he wrote up patents for all the cDNAs Craig had produced, many of which, you know, had no function whatsoever. I thought this is - so when I heard of this patent thing, I sort of, you know, said it was, you know, just bad and - but Bernadine Healy who'd become the director of NIH in consequence of George - yes, she became director of NIH sort of in 1990, because the first George Bush was President. And I had seen her earlier when she was all for regulating recombinant DNA and biotechnology and thought she was misguided, but I said, you shouldn't give a patent to something a monkey could do, so that led to another meeting where Craig appeared in a monkey suit. And then - and my pro-patenting, I mean, anti-patenting thing made some people uneasy with me 'cause they thought I was against America's competitiveness. So Bernadine essentially fired me and she could do it because, you know, I was still at Cold Spring Harbor and I had two jobs and I shouldn't have. It cost me $10,000 to resign because I had to get a high powered New York - Washington lawyer to see, you know that I wasn't being prosecuted for being sitting in my desk and doing it. And so I remember it was a pretty awful two days or something like this and - but one of our trustees had, oh, I can't now remember the name. He was almost, you know, the most prominent lawyer in Washington, but of course I didn't really see him, I saw an associate of his. And that happened in April of 1992. And about a year later, Francis Collins was appointed. He had found the CF gene. So I ceased to have any very active involvement in it. At the time I was fired, I had been in London just before going around to the MRC and to the Wellcome Trust with the hope that they would make a big commitment because to Sydney Brenner's, you know, annoyance or not annoyance but the MRC really didn't want to spend much money on the Human Genome Project. In fact, he was - Sydney had a small human genome project where he did his cDNAs, but it was all being done like it was basic science instead of big science. And if that hadn't, Sydney would have made all those cDNAs. And the MRC was run by Dai Rees. And the Wellcome Trust had just, I think Bridget Ogilvie was about to take it over. And they made the, you know, big decision that they would fund the British components of the - and the MRC was out. And that was just the time when the company had been sold to Glaxo, to Glaxo Wellcome. And so they were suddenly very, very rich.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 5 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010