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How Well Do You Know Francis?

If you've been following GenomeWeb coverage of Francis Collins over the years, you know that he rides a Honda Nighthawk motorcycle, strums a mean guitar, and originally turned down the gig as head of NHGRI.

And if any of that surprises you, it's a good time to get to know the presumptive new director of the leading US funding agency. Collins was named Person of the Year in the 2003 Genome Technology All-Stars, where he told us that his scientific career started out in (of all things) quantum mechanics. He was at the University of Michigan directing one of the first six genome centers when he was first tapped to head up NHGRI -- and declined. "I was having a very good time in my own research lab in Michigan, I was a Hughes investigator," he said. "The idea of becoming a federal employee seemed like the one thing that was never on my life plan." When asked a second time several months later, he jumped at what he'd realized would be a great opportunity.

Known as an incurable optimist, Collins says that he kept his sanity at NHGRI by maintaining his own research lab, which over the years turned up genetic links to diabetes, progeria, and more.

Aside from leading the Human Genome Project through to its completion, Collins considered the passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to be one of his proudest moments during his 15-year tenure at NHGRI. He was, of course, instrumental in laying out the research priorities for the institute in the post-HGP days, including promoting the HapMap program.

Recently, he published the Language of God, a treatise on the compatibility of faith and science, and followed that up with the launch of his BioLogos foundation. Collins has shown an interest in direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and offered a keynote address at the Consumer Genetics Conference in Boston last month.