Pioneering Scientist to Head Genetics at UW

One of the world's most notable genome scientists, Robert H. Waterston, will become chair of the new Department of Genome Sciences at the UW School of Medicine, President Richard L. McCormick announced July 9. He will also hold the William Gates III Endowed Chair in Biomedical Sciences when he arrives at the UW in January.

Robert H. Waterston. Photo courtesy of Washington University, St. Louis.

Robert H. Waterston. Photo courtesy of Washington University, St. Louis.

Waterston, 58, is currently head of the Department of Genetics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He led a project to sequence the genome of a worm and was the first to make complete sequencing of animal genomes a reality.

"When a scientist of Robert Waterston's stature decides to come to the University of Washington, it is a tremendous compliment to our institution and to those already here who are working in related areas," said McCormick.

"Bob Waterston played a crucial role in the world's first sequencing of the genome of an entire living organism, and he has a visionary understanding of the revolution that is taking place in the convergence of information technology and bioscience," said Microsoft's Bill Gates, who endowed the chair in 1991.

Waterston's contributions to large-scale DNA sequencing were central to the success of the Human Genome Project. Waterston's laboratory constructed the framework of the international human genome sequencing effort, then contributed 20 percent of the entire human genome sequence.

Waterston also pioneered the use of the Internet for the rapid, public release of sequence and map information. In order to help investigators worldwide interpret the genome sequence, Waterston helped generate more than 3 million sequences from expressed genes in a variety of organisms. This vast databank now enables researchers to find genes important to complex human traits.

The new genetics chair brings an impressive set of credentials to Seattle. He earned both a medical degree and a doctorate in pathology from the University of Chicago in 1972 after earning a bachelor's degree in engineering from Princeton University in 1965. Waterston is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has won the Genetics Society of America's Beadle Award and the first Dan David Prize for achievements that hold great promise for improving the future. Other recent honors include the Alfred P. Sloan Award, election to the Institute of Medicine, an American Heart Association Established Investigator Award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. He has served as a member of several National Institutes of Health study sections, on the NIH Advisory Council and as chairman of the NIH Molecular Cytology Study Section.

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