Gilbert was the most eminent

This post refers to Walter Gilbert. I have deliberately morphed him into Gilbert Farie. This is another extract from the book by the biologist, Steven Rose and the sociologist, Hilary Rose: Genes, Cells and Brains. It is a book that should be read by all who have an interest in the ‘two’ cultures.


“But Sinsheimer’s project, despite its failure, inspired Walter Gilbert to try another approach. Gilbert was the most eminent among the new breed of geneticist-entrepreneurs. His career had moved seamlessly between Harvard, his company Biogen, and then – when Biogen crashed – back to Harvard. Fired up by the Santa Cruz proposal, it was Gilbert who first described the decoding of human DNA as biology’s ‘Holy Grail’, just one of a plethora of Christian metaphors in which the sequencers were to enshroud their quest. Gilbert announced in 1986 that he was going to form a purpose-built company – Genome Corporation – to do the job. He too failed to raise the huge $3 billion required, and Genome Corp. sank without trace.

Gilbert’s efforts to commercialise genomic research have been frequently erased in the origin narrative of the HGP. Occasionally geneticists suffer mild amnesia concerning this initial bid. It seems they prefer an account that begins with the non-commercially tainted public sector.”

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