Michael S. Waterman | March 31, 2021 | Quantitative Biology

In May 1985 there was at University of California Santa Cruz an influential meeting that was the first serious discussion of sequencing the entire human genome. The author was one of the participants and described the meeting and related issues.

The Human Genome Project (HGP) is a historical and landmark scientific project. In spite of initial controversy it has become a bedrock foundation for much progress in biological science and human health. After the Human Genome Project was completed in the early 2000s, next generation sequencing technologies were developed and that has revolutionized genomics. Here is a brief account of the May 1985 meeting at University of California Santa Cruz. Historical accounts often begin with a the Department of Energy (DOE) meeting in Santa Fe in March 1986 and neglect including the Santa Cruz meeting [1], although sometimes it is discussed [2].

It was May 1985. I drove up narrow Highway 17 out of San Jose, over the mountains, down to the sea to turn right on the famous Route 1, and eventually turned right again to the campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). I drove across the open fields of the bench
land and then into the redwood forested fingers of the university. Harry Noller, a RNA biologist, has his labs somewhere in the maze of redwoods, small canyons and occasional buildings. Harry told me that when he interviewed in 1968 he similarly became lost among the magnificent trees, and that is what decided him to join the newly formed university. Harry with his beard and abiding love of jazz is identical to Santa Cruz for me. UC Santa Cruz was begun in 1965 to promote progressive and interdisciplinary undergraduate education, and these 20 years later it is building a serious scientific reputation.

And in 1985 Robert Sinsheimer was chancellor of the university (1977–1987) and he is famous for his work in isolating, purifying, and replicating synthetically the DNA of the virus fX 174. Sinsheimer had the vision and courage to be the first seriously to propose sequencing
the human genome and that is why I and others are visiting UCSC. With Noller, Edgar, Moldave, and Ludwig from UCSC organizing, on May 24 and 25 1985 there was a meeting
of a dozen experts that assembled at Santa Cruz (Fig.1). Those attending were Bart Barrell, David Botstein, George Church, Ronald Davis, Helen Donis-Keller, Walter Gilbert, Lee Hood, Hans Lerach, Leonard Lerman, David Schwartz, John Sulston, and Michael Waterman.
My inclusion as the only computational and mathematical person was surely due to Noller, and the meeting was transformational for me as well as several others attending.

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