A roller-coaster ‘how we got to where we are today’ tour by the US government’s Director of Research, starting with a look back to the point eleven years ago when the momentous results of the Human Genome Project were made public for the first time.

The (Human) Genomic Landscape circa 2012

And now for something only made available to us all though some seriously YouTube-era magic: it just so happens that although YouTube didn’t exist when the Human Genome Project results were first published eleven years ago, someone has taken the trouble to unearth a video of the seminal 2001 conference which was held to plan the ‘post-genome project’ future.

It features an introduction the same guy (Eric Green) looking understandably younger, but just as excited by developments.

It’s three hours long, but as a way of getting a close-up, first-hand opportunity to check and compare ‘what they said at the time and what they expected to happen next’ with what we are saying now and what has actually happened since, this material truly represents a contemporary science historian’s (and science journalist’s) dream come true.

Beyond the Beginning: The Future of Genomics

Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton, Va. December 2001

Here’s the official introduction to that historic conference:

On December 12-14, 2001 NHGRI held a meeting Beyond the Beginning: The Future of Genomics at the Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton, Va. to ignite the planning process.

The goal of the meeting was to develop a broad vision of the future of genomics research that will lay the foundation for a bold new plan for the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

In order to accomplish this goal, participants were encouraged to think broadly about the future possibilities and potential of genomics and its ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) without regard to “who” or “how” details.

Ultimately, NHGRI will need to fashion very specific research and program objectives that take into account the following:

        • The genomics and ELSI work already being supported by others
        • The funding mechanisms available at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
        • The appropriate role of government and, specifically, NHGRI
        • The expected budgets available to support the work
        • Making difficult choices between competing priorities

These issues will be addressed at a later stage and did not rein in the thinking at this meeting.

To catalyze and inspire “out of the box” thinking, five plenary session talks were given in the areas of technology, computation, medicine, biology and ELSI.

Speakers were asked to imagine themselves in the year 2020 and consider what they would like to see happen in the future. Each presentation was followed by a question and discussion period.

Then, following the set of five presentations, the participants were divided into breakout groups of about 20 to 25 people, each with a specific topic area.

The first set of breakout groups were asked to attempt to emulate the speakers’ forward thinking.

The second set of breakout groups were asked to explore various possible genomics aspirations, from having the technology to sequence a human genome for $1,000 to having a genetically literate populace capable of making informed decisions about their health.

The following day, the group was reconvened to hear the conclusions of the breakout groups and to review the major themes of the meeting.

Over the next year, a series of workshops will be held to further explore the ambitious, high-risk and high-payoff ideas that resulted from this meeting.