Eric Lander

Director of the Whitehead Institute's Center for Genome Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"I couldn’t imagine something more fun to be doing," says Eric Lander, a leading figure in the world of genome research. "For me, as someone who thinks about mathematics and data and relations between things, the idea of being able to lay out all of life in terms of the finite list of its components—it’s just mind-boggling."

Eric Lander began his intellectual life as a mathematician, but he was drawn into his current field by a fascination with neurobiology, which required an understanding of gene function. Now, genomes fire his imagination. "We’ve got, in the form of DNA, records of all the evolutionary experiments on the planet," he says. "You can regard the genomes as the laboratory notebook of evolution over 75 million years."

In a fast-changing field, Lander appreciates how a discovery can transform things. When researchers discovered that there’s much more to the function of the genome than simply coding proteins, he welcomed the chance to correct a misperception. "This is the wonderful thing about science: There is more ignorance out there than we appreciate. The more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to learn."

Eric Lander
"The twentieth century, the barbaric, primitive period of biology. Ten years from now, it’s going to look, to students of biology, like it would look to students of chemistry trying to imagine doing chemistry before the periodic table."

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