ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Robert H. Waterston, M.D., Ph.D., of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). He is one of 60 new members chosen this morning. Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on an American scientist or engineer. The newly elected members bring the total number of active members to 1,843.
The NAS is a private organization dedicated to advancing science and its use for the general good. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act. Upon request, it acts as an official adviser to the federal government in matters of science or technology.
Waterston is the James S. McDonnell Professor of Genetics and head of the Department of Genetics at the Washington University School of Medicine. He also directs the school's Genome Sequencing Center, which is playing a major role in the Human Genome Project (HGP). The international collaborative venture is sequencing all the DNA in the human chromosomes. The sequence of 3.3 billion genetic letters carries the instructions for making and operating the human body, and its errors or variations contribute to most types of disease.
"Dr. Waterston is internationally recognized for his scientific contributions to the Human Genome Project," said Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the NAS and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The HGP places its data into a freely accessible public database every 24 hours to make them immediately available to scientists around the world. The data obtained so far have proved useful in searches for human disease genes, physical mapping studies and interpreting the human sequence. "Bob has been a consistent and effective advocate for free and immediate access to all of the data produced by the Human Genome Project," Collins said.
Waterston's group and its British collaborators previously sequenced all the DNA in a roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans. This was the first sequence from an organism with more than one cell. "Bob's leadership in demonstrating that high quality, large-scale sequencing can be carried out successfully for C. elegans and now for the human has been critical to the current rapid advances in the field of genomics," Collins said.
C. elegans is an important experimental organism that is shedding light on the complicated process of development and the normal functions of human disease genes. For many years, Waterston has used it to study genes involved in muscle development.
Waterston joined the Washington University faculty in 1976 after a postdoctoral fellowship at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. Prior to that, he was an intern in pediatric medicine at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston. He received both a medical degree and a doctorate in pathology from the University of Chicago in 1972 and obtained a bachelor's degree in engineering from Princeton University in 1965.
He was a recipient of an American Heart Association Established Investigator Award from 1980 to 1985, and he held a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship from 1985 to1986. He has served as a member of several NIH study sections and as chairman of the NIH's Molecular Cytology Study Section. He currently serves on the NIH Advisory Council.
Waterston is a member of Sigma Xi, Alpha Omega Alpha, the Genetics Society and the American Society of Cell Biology. He has published more than 70 peer-reviewed, scientific articles.
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Last Reviewed: September 21, 2007