The Genome Doctor
The director of the National Human Genome Research Institute answers questions about the morality of his work
October 1, 2001
He grew up on a 95-acre farm that had no plumbing. Son of a drama professor father and a playwright mother, he wrote and directed a script for The Wizard of Oz when he was 7. But he chose to become a chemist, not a dramaturge. At 23, he completed a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University. After realizing that he'd like to focus on something more human-oriented than quantum mechanics (his emphasis at Yale), he moved on to medical school at the University of North Carolina, where he encountered the field of medical genetics. The promise of genetics to alleviate human suffering got hold of him for good.
Before the employees at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) began to recognize the Honda Nighthawk 750 motorcycle and its 6-foot-4 driver on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Dr. Francis Collins made a name for himself as one of the scientists who discovered the genetic misspellings that cause cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, and Huntington's disease. He became NHGRI's director in 1993. Last February, the publicly sponsored NHGRI (and the private company Celera Genomics) published a working draft of the human genome sequence.
Where do science and religion meet?
Scientists are now busy perfecting that genome draft, studying human genetic variation, and sequencing the genomes of the mouse and the rat. The main question that nags them is how the genome works, but they're having to answer ethical questions as well. A professing Christian, Collins talked "genethics" with Agnieszka Tennant, Christianity Today's assistant editor.
I think of God as the greatest scientist. We human scientists have an opportunity to understand the elegance and wisdom of God's creation in a ...