WASHINGTON, DC, April 15 - Yesterday might have been Francis Collins's "historic day," but last night was simply a night to cut loose.
While the highest-up of the higher-ups in genomics were wined and dined at an invitation-only, black-tie dinner at the Library of Congress (with plenty of politicians in attendance), some 200 genome scientists - referring to themselves as "B-listers," "lowly," and "grunts" - partied the night away at a celebration thrown by all the genome centers and co-sponsored by Applied Biosystems and MJ Research.
There was no evident feeling of envy toward those at the official event as guests at the alternate party, held at the historic Old Ebbitt Grill in downtown DC, chatted with relief about not having to wear tuxes or gowns. After an hour-and-a-half open-bar reception, dinner was served around lighted palm trees and a flowing fountain. And partygoers weren't shy about snatching up several of the solid chocolate As, Cs, Gs, and Ts placed on each table.
Whitehead's Seema Kumar opened the floor for impromptu toasts and found no shortage. The B-listers' heroes and friends came out in force: Mark Guyer, Elaine Mardis, Steve Scherer, John McPherson, Arthur Holden, Paul Richardson, Lori Murray, Jill Mesirov, Jim Mullikin, Todd Taylor, Chad Nusbaum, and Bruce Birren were among them. Each in turn was hooted and cheered by an increasingly enthusiastic crew of scientists. It was about time: as Bruce Birren said, "There's been a lot of deferred fun over the last 15 years."
Their reasons to raise a glass were as varied as they come. Toasts were raised to NHGRI, scientists "in the trenches," and humble researchers, as well as the people in tuxedoes who weren't there. Additional kudos went out to clones, geeks, liberal arts majors, and even to drinking too much.
Marc Abrahams, known for giving out the IgNobel prizes, entertained the group with examples of crazy research recognized by the Annals of Improbable Research over the years - one was DNA cologne, which contains no DNA and comes in a triple helix bottle. (Kumar ushered around the $200 spray, offering it to anyone who wanted to try. Most regretted it.)
But the highlight of the evening was a performance by an operatic singer and pianist. One song, called "Craig's DNA," was written for the occasion and lampooned the absent genomics figurehead for sequencing himself. Another was an ode to DNA, and the audience jumped in for the "Um diddle D diddle N diddle A" chorus.
Finally, around 10:30, it happened: the "official" stars of the day began to show up. Anxious to loosen the cummerbunds after what was described as a "stiff" and "stuffy" affair, in paraded a slew of luminaries including Jane Rogers, Eric Lander, Francis Collins, Rick Wilson, Dick McCombie, Richard Gibbs, and Eddy Rubin.
Many gave toasts of their own, but not before Lander commandeered the microphone to let everyone know it was Collins's birthday. Now we know, he joked, why this was the deadline. After being serenaded by 200 scientists, Collins announced that the human genome was "the best birthday present ever."
Lander addressed the genome troops: "This is the real party. This is where the Human Genome Project got done."
But the A-listers didn't miss out entirely: By popular demand, "Craig's DNA" was performed once more.