Good-bye Frank!

Francis Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), will be stepping down from that position in August. Collins has overseen the sequencing of the human genome, the HapMap project, the ENCODE project, and many other large advances in genomics. The NHGRI has had a major impact in the field of genetics while Collins was at its helm.

Collins also has a history of putting his foot in his mouth -- not that it's a bad thing to do so (lord knows my foot's spent more time lodged in my face than on the ground). He's been incorrect about morality and human evolution, to name two of the more noticeable faux pas. I hope the next head of the NHGRI has more solid grasp of evolutionary genetics than Collins does. Modern genomics requires it.

So, who should take over as head of the NHGRI in August? I have some ideas.

  • Eric Lander: Founding director of the Broad Institute and a major player in human genomics. He could very well turn down the position of head of the NHGRI because he's got it pretty good where he currently is.
  • Stephen O'Brien: Currently at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), where he studies genomic diversity. Would be a natural fit to transition to the more human-centric genomic diversity work going on at NHGRI. Already at the NIH.
  • Elaine Ostrander: If I'm going to nominate a cat geneticist (O'Brien), it only seems appropriate that I also nominate a dog geneticist. Ostrander is a leader in making the domestic dog a model organism for studying human genetic disease. She's also already at NHGRI.
  • Eric Green: He's the Scientific Director of the NHGRI and a big player in comparative genomics.
  • William Gahl: He's the Clinical Director of the NHGRI. If the NIH wants to keep a MD/PhD in charge, Gahl may be their man.
  • Alan Guttmacher: Deputy Director of the NHGRI. He'll be acting director starting August 1, until they find a replacement for Collins.
  • David Haussler: Heads the University of California, Santa Cruz comparative genomics group. Is a huge figure in human genomics, and has his hands in pretty much all the big science projects funded by the NHGRI.

That is by no means an exhaustive list. It's just some of the names that came to mind or jumped out when browsing the NHGRI webpage. It's definitely biased toward the type of research I think the NHGRI should be funding. Do you have any other suggestions? Who should be the next director? Who will be the next director? Those last two questions may have very different answers.

See also: Jonathan Eisen thinks Collins may be stepping down to act as an advisor for a presidential campaign.

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I would nominate Eric Green.

I really hope Collins isn't going to be part of any Presidential campaigns.

He may have put his foot in his mouth a few times, but he never even came close to the verbal foot-in-mouth talent that his predecessor (Jim Watson) had.

Whether you like Francis or not, he seems to be a perfect person for any presidential candidate to pick as an advisor. Well known scientist. Public servant. Overtly religious. They are probably all over him.

I think they should consider Eddy Rubin (not that I want him to leave Joint Genome Institute where I work part time --- but he should definitely be on the list). He runs the Joint Genome Institute. He has an MD and PHD and has done a lot of work on human and vertebrate genomics.

Good call on Eddy Rubin. And, while we're suggesting Rubins, what about Gerry Rubin, head of Janelia Farms?

Gerry Rubin would be great too, but would you leave a megaBillion dollar private foundation to run a federal institute? Probably not. Plus, Janelia is just getting started and I am sure he wants to see it through for a few years. But he would be great to have at NHGRI. Maybe we can clone him.

What about Claire Fraser, former President of TIGR? She is heavy into genomes of microorganisms and human microbiomes (a recent NHGRI initiative), and obviously can run a complex organization.

Craig Venter would be a funny pick...