letters superimposed across the face of Dr. Francis Collins,
a U.Va. alumnus who heads the Human Genome Project, represent
the base pairs from the gene that controls cystic fibrosis,
one of his earlier discoveries.
Genome Project leader will be graduation speaker
Francis S. Collins, the physician-geneticist who heads the international
Human Genome Project, will be the commencement speaker at the
University's Final Exercises on May 20.
1970 graduate of the University and director of the National Institutes
of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute, Collins
oversees the 13-year, publicly funded research effort to map and
sequence all of the human DNA genetic code, a project that has
been called the most important scientific undertaking of our era.
Its aim is to help understand the basis of genetic diseases and
gain insight into human evolution.
on a small farm near Staunton and home-schooled until the sixth
grade, Collins entered U.Va. at age 16 and received his undergraduate
degree in chemistry. He went on to take his Ph.D. in chemistry
at Yale and then, sensing that a revolution was under way in molecular
biology and genetics, enrolled in medical school at the University
of North Carolina.
in medical genetics and identification of disease genes, he joined
the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1984. His ideas and
approaches contributed to the development of powerful scientific
tools for identifying genetic abnormalities.
1989 his strategies led to identifying the gene for cystic fibrosis
and to further successful collaborations in identifying other
disease genes. In 1993 he accepted an invitation to become the
second director of the National Center for Human Genome Research,
following James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.
His accomplishments have brought numerous honors, including election
to the Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences.
Earlier this month he was named a Virginia Outstanding Scientist
of the Year by the Science Museum of Virginia. The museum will
formally award the honor at a ceremony later this spring.
Human Genome Project, slated for completion in 2003, is ahead
of its original schedule. The international scientific effort
has already produced a draft human genome, or map to the human
organism's genes and DNA, that promises to have profound
implications for medical and drug research.