Robert H. Waterston, MD, PhD, is internationally known for his pioneering contributions to the field of genomics. In the 1990s, while at Washington University, he, together with John Sulston, PhD, at the Sanger Centre in England, painstakingly unraveled the genetic code of the tiny, transparent worm C. elegans, marking the first time scientists had sequenced the complete DNA of any organism larger than a single cell. Waterston received an honorary doctor of science degree in 2009.
Pioneering the Human Genome Project
The team’s success paved the way for the Human Genome Project, the deciphering of the 3 billion chemical units of DNA that contain the instructions for human life.
With his expertise in large-scale DNA sequencing, Waterston played a pivotal role in getting the ambitious project off the ground, and his laboratory, along with the Sanger Centre, contributed more than half of the data to delineate the human genetic code.
They went on to generate the sequence of the laboratory mouse, the chimpanzee and other genomes.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Waterston earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1965 from Princeton University and medical and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago in 1972.
Waterston joined WUSTL’s School of Medicine faculty in 1976. He was named the James S. McDonnell Professor and chairman of the Department of Genetics and director of the Genome Sequencing Center in 1993.
In this capacity, he established WUSTL as a leader in large-scale genome sequencing, one that garnered a reputation for producing data at a significant rate and with a high degree of accuracy.