Genome center

Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research, 2001.

Center for Genome Research

In the late 1980s, sensing an impending revolution in genomics, Whitehead Institute leadership committed to the creation of the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research.

By 1990, the Center was up and running under the direction former Whitehead Member Eric Lander, who had come to the Institute four years earlier as a Whitehead Fellow. Within a few years, the facility became one of the largest in the world, and an international leader in the fields of genetics and genomics.

In addition to sequencing the human genome, the Center played a leadership role in sequencing key model organisms such as the mouse, and other organisms essential for locating regions of the genome that are conserved across multiple species. Scientists at the Center drove the effort to identify the human genome’s single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), the single-letter differences in DNA that might underlie disease susceptibility. The researchers discovered that SNPs travel though populations in large blocks, suggesting that mapping genes for common diseases might be much easier than previously thought.

The Center’s functional genomics group, dedicated to translating sequencing data and technology into direct biomedical applications, devised new genomic strategies for cancer diagnosis, developed a suite of bioinformatics tools and developed methods for mapping disease across human populations.

Lander credited his team’s success to the unique resources he found at Whitehead and within the broader MIT community: “I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have accidentally found Whitehead Institute,” Lander stated. “If I hadn’t fallen into this community, there is simply no way in the world that I could have done a tenth of the things that I’ve had the pleasure to do in my career. Whitehead is an extraordinary, confident community that knows what its standards are about and is not afraid to take bets on young people.”

In November of 2003, the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research became the cornerstone facility of the Broad Institute, a research collaboration between Whitehead Institute, MIT, and Harvard University. In 2008, Eric Lander left the Whitehead faculty and Whitehead Institute relinquished its governance role in the operation as the Broad Institute became a fully independent institution.

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