Eric Lander: The great amplifier pg. 5
Meanwhile, he and Botstein churned out half a dozen papers detailing their methods for mapping complex genetic traits. With the help of Philip Green, Ph.D., who, like Lander, was a mathematician-turned-molecular biologist, they put those methods to work at a Massachusetts biotechnology company called Collaborative Research Inc.
“What the company was trying to do was to identify lots of these RFLP markers and then determine where they were on the chromosomes by finding their locations relative to each other,” Green recalls. This approach was called genetic linkage mapping.
At the time, researchers could map only three or four markers at a time. Green and Lander met frequently to discuss ways to construct maps with many more markers, and independently developed software programs to implement their ideas.
In 1987, the team, led by Collaborative Research senior researcher Helen Donis-Keller, Ph.D., published the first genetic linkage map of the human genome.
“He certainly is competitive,” Green says his former collaborator. “That can create a tension because you’re both collaborating and competing in a sense at the same time, trying to come up with ideas first. But overall, you get past that, and I actually think competition really drives science.”
In 1990, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Energy (DOE) officially launched an ambitious international effort—dubbed the Human Genome Project—to determine the sequence of every human gene.
That year Lander, a recipient of one of the project’s first grants, founded the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research to exploit recent advances.
Among them: automated DNA sequencing machines, and “shotgun” sequencing, in which randomly sliced up fragments of DNA are cloned and sequenced, and—with the help of powerful computer programs—pieced back together in proper order.
Others were racing to embrace the new technology. In 1998, former NIH scientist Craig Venter, Ph.D., shocked the scientific world when he announced that his new company, Celera, would sequence the human genome by 2001—several years earlier than the target date set by the Human Genome Project.
Urged by Lander, among others, the public effort reorganized its priorities to produce a rough draft sequence first and a final finished product later.
Lander’s center became the largest of the project’s top five gene-sequencing operations. The others were Washington University in St. Louis, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, England.
In June 2000, the race ended in a “tie:” Celera and the Human Genome Project jointly announced working drafts of the human genome sequence. The public genome project went on to complete a final sequence three years later.
In October 2001, Lander and his colleagues were filling in the gaps in the sequence when Eli Broad called him up, and asked if he and his wife Edythe could visit his lab during a visit to Cambridge.