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Alumnus Francis Collins, Human Genome Project Leader, Will Be U.Va.’S Graduation Speaker

March 5, 2001-- Dr. Francis S. Collins, the physician-geneticist who heads the international Human Genome Project, will be the commencement speaker at the University of Virginia’s Final Exercises on Sunday, May 20, President John T. Casteen III announced.

A 1970 graduate of the University and director of the National Institute 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 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.

Slated for completion in 2003, 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.

Raised on a small farm near Staunton and home-schooled until the sixth grade, Collins entered U.Va. at 16 and received his undergraduate degree in chemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Yale and then, sensing a revolution was under way in molecular biology and genetics, enrolled in medical school at the University of North Carolina.

Working in medical genetics and identification of disease genes, he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1984. His ideas and approaches led to the development of powerful scientific tools for identifying genetic abnormalities.

In 1989 his strategies led to identifying the gene for cystic fibrosis and to further successful collaborations in identifying other disease genes. In 1993, became the second director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, following James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.

His accomplishments have garnered numerous honors, including his 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.

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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