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Former Human Genome Project leader Francis Collins likely next NIH director

Francis Collins NIHThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) will likely bring on geneticist Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project, as its new director, Bloomberg News reported on Saturday.

The agency, which has been run by acting director Raynard Kington since October 2008 after Elias Zerhouni stepped down, is in late stages of screening Collins, noted Bloomberg.

The 59-year-old candidate was director from 1993 until 2008 of the National Human Genome Research Institute (which produced the map of the human genome in 2003) and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 for his genetic research, which is the highest U.S. civilian honor.

"NIH is a huge enterprise, and I think Francis has very good experience with getting the best out of a huge enterprise from what he did in the genome project," David Baltimore, who won the 1975 Nobel Prize in medicine, told Bloomberg earlier this year. "He's also very well liked in Congress."

Collins is also the founder and president of BioLogos Foundation, a group of scientists who, according to the organization's Web site: "believe in God and are committed to promoting a perspective of the origins of life that is both theologically and scientifically sound." In 2006 Collins published New York Times bestseller The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Some, including Richard Dawkins (fellow scientist and author of The God Delusion), have questioned Collins' ability to be an effective scientist while maintaining a Christian belief system.

Upon presenting an early draft of the human genome map in 2000 at a White House ceremony with President Clinton, Collins explained, "We have caught the first glimpse of or instruction book, previously known only to God," the New York Times reported.

Read Collins' "Mapping the Cancer Genome," from the March 2007 issue of Scientific American, which he co-authored with Anna Barker, a deputy director of the National Cancer Institute.*

Image of Francis Collins speaking in 2003 courtesy of Ernie Branson/NIH


*Correction: (6/2/09): This sentence was changed after publication to correct Anna Barker's title.

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