UW Today

This is an archived article.

July 11, 2002

Waterston named to chair Genome Sciences

Dr. Robert H. Waterston, one of the world’s leading genome scientists, has been named chair of the Department of Genome Sciences at the UW School of Medicine, announced Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, UW vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

The appointment follows a national search and is subject to confirmation by the UW Board of Regents at its meeting July 19. Ramsey also announced that Waterston will hold the William Gates III Endowed Chair in Biomedical Sciences.

Waterston, 58, is the James S. McDonnell Professor and head of the Department of Genetics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, as well as director of the school’s Genome Sequencing Center.

Waterston, who is expected to start at the UW next January, brings an impressive set of credentials to Seattle. His most recent honors include being one of the eight people named to receive the 2002 International Gairdner Award in recognition of outstanding achievement in biomedical research. In moving to the UW, he joins two other 2002 Gairdner recipients in Genome Sciences, Drs. Maynard Olson and Philip Green. (Olson came to the UW in 1992; Green arrived in 1994.)

Waterston also 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 from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation and election to the Institute of Medicine.

“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 UW President Richard L. McCormick. “Dr. Waterston’s research in St. Louis has gained the acclaim of colleagues worldwide. We look forward to having him lead our outstanding genome sciences department to even greater heights.”

Similar enthusiasm was expressed by Ramsey. “Bob Waterston’s arrival in Seattle will reunite a team of genome scientists who all worked together formerly at Washington University, including Maynard Olson and Phil Green,” Ramsey said. “Together with many other UW colleagues, Bob Waterston is certain to further cement the UW’s growing reputation as the epicenter of one of the most exciting fields of biomedical inquiry today.”

“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 William H. Gates III. “I am delighted that he is coming to Seattle to lead the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The recruitment of Bob Waterston positions our community to be a global leader in genomics.” Gates is chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corporation.

“I am delighted to join the University of Washington as the chair of the new Department of Genome Sciences,” Waterston said. “This is an exciting time in genome sciences, and the combination of the department, the University and the community offers a special opportunity to shape the direction of this important field. I am honored to be given this chance and look forward to the challenge.”

The UW Department of Genome Sciences was formed in October 2001, with the consolidation of the former Department of Genetics in the College of Arts and Sciences and the former Department of Molecular Biotechnology in the School of Medicine. There are about 20 faculty in the department, with roughly 20 additional affiliate and adjunct faculty. The acting chair has been Dr. Stanley Fields, professor of genome sciences and medicine, who Ramsey thanked for his interim leadership.

Waterston joined the Washington University faculty in 1976 after a postdoctoral fellowship at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. He had previously been an intern in pediatric medicine at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston. Waterston received 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.

Through his leadership of the project to sequence the genome of the worm C. elegans, Waterston was the first to make complete sequencing of animal genomes a reality. In the years that followed, his contributions to large-scale DNA sequencing were central to the success of the Human Genome Project. His laboratory constructed the physical map that was 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 led the effort to 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 by exploiting the evolutionary origins of the critical genes.

Waterston also led the effort to identify millions of DNA sites at which one person differs from another. These variant sites form a genetic map that enables the identification of human disease genes.

As a biologist, Waterston has long been interested in the development of muscle. He used the worm to study muscle formation, identifying many of the required genes and creating a model of the lattice of myofilaments of which muscle is composed. This biological question led to development of new tools for gene recovery and ultimately the map and sequence of C. elegans.

Waterston held an American Heart Association Established Investigator Award from 1980 to 1985, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship from 1985 to 1986. 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.

Waterston is a member of Sigma Xi, Alpha Omega Alpha, the Genetics Society and the American Society of Cell Biology.

The Department of Genome Sciences will have nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, with the arrival of Waterston. More information about the department is available at http://www.gs.washington.edu .

Additional information about Waterston’s background and scientific accomplishments can be found at

http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/waterston.html and

http://www.asee.org/conferences/annual2000/highlights.htm