2003: The Genome of Homo sapiens, Vol. LXVIII
Organizer: Jane Rogers, Edward Rubin, David Stewart
In 2001, as we considered topics for future Symposia, it rapidly became clear what the focus of attention should be in 2003. It had escaped no-one's notice that there was a momentous event to be celebrated that year—the 50th anniversary of the proposal by James Watson and Francis Crick of a structure for DNA now famously known as the double helix. And of great significance at Cold Spring Harbor was the 35th anniversary in 2003 of Jim Watson's appointment as Laboratory Director and the beginning of his unique influence on all aspects of this institution. These anniversaries would clearly require special attention and were indeed recognized in February at a remarkable meeting at the Laboratory devoted to DNA and at a spectacular gala in New York.
For the Symposium topic, however, we turned to another achievement that, even two years in advance, could be seen as the most significant milestone in biological science since the discovery of the double helix: the completion of the sequence of the human genome. Begun formally in 1990, with Jim Watson as its first director, the federally funded effort to map and sequence the entire human DNA molecule had resulted in the publication of a draft sequence in 2001. The predicted availability of the complete sequence in the first half of 2003 provided the ideal backdrop to a Symposium that focused not just on the details of the sequence, but on the power of information it contains to transform scientific investigations into fundamental biological processes and the causes of human disease.
In planning the Symposium, I was fortunate to have as coorganizers Jane Rogers, Edward Rubin, and my
colleague David Stewart, whose advice and help in choosing speakers and themes were invaluable. The opening night of the meeting provided a glimpse of both the history of genomics and its extraordinary potential for the future as we listened to incisive lectures from Jane Rogers, David Cox, David Page, and David Botstein. In total, there were 81 oral presentations on the program and 180 poster presentations, all of striking quality. The lecture named for the Symposium series founder, Reginald G. Harris, was given in lively style by Claire Fraser. The annual Dorcas Cummings Lecture for our neighbors was a special treat, another demonstration of the masterful ability of Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Research Institute at the National Insitutes of Health, to convey the excitement of this kind of science to the general public—on this occasion not just with words, but with songs and his own guitar accompaniment. I am also particularly grateful to Maynard Olson for summarizing the meeting in his typically lucid and thoughtful way despite an electrical blackout that took place throughout the entire Summary presentation.
— Jan A. Witkowski