Claire Fraser heads The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland. She has researched microbial genomics since the early 1990s and previously studied G-protein coupled receptors.
TS: What lessons have you taken from the discovery of DNA's structure?
CF: I so vividly remember when I first read Jim Watson's book The Double Helix...in college. I was really starting to get involved in research, and I was actually wrestling with the decision to go on to a career in research or go on to medical school and pursue a career in medicine. What I found so fascinating was that it described the process, the science, the politics, the personalities-sort of in typical Jim Watson-style-with nothing held back. ... It really drove home to me, his book, that like everything else, science is a human endeavor.
TS: Genomics has certainly thrust scientists into the public eye. Do you believe Watson and Crick helped set the mold for scientists as superstars?
CF: I don't know that nonscientists necessarily know Watson and Crick as individuals-as the interesting personalities that they represent. I think it's more sort of a knee jerk reaction: 'Oh, Watson and Crick, DNA' and that may be all that people know.
Unfortunately, I think we still have a long way to go just in terms of science awareness. Scientists can and should be heroes. I think the publicity surrounding the work on the human genome project could certainly help to reinvigorate some public interest in science and genomics. Again, I'm not even sure how many people would even necessarily link the human genome project with something that happened 50 years ago with Watson and Crick's work.
--Brendan Maher, Eugene Russo, and Hal Cohen contributed to this report.