For more than a dozen years, Dr. Daniel Drell served as the JGI program manager at the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), in the Biological Systems Science Division (BSSD). After 30 years in government service, most of that time with the BER, he retired in September. Before he stepped down, he reflected on his tenure with the JGI in a brief Q&A.
What was, for you, the most memorable moment that you’ve participated in as JGI program manager?
Many, but I suppose the first that comes to mind was sitting in the front row at the User Meeting a few years ago and hearing Nobel Laureate Ham Smith talk about the first totally synthesized Mycoplasma, and the fact that 149 genes in its absolutely minimal genome of some 470 or so genes were of unknown function despite being required for viability. It reminded me of those early microbial genome sequences of microbes that demonstrably carried out a number of metabolic reactions or degradations but no genes could be identified that did those reactions.
What is your vision for JGI in the next 5-10 years?
That JGI becomes the nucleation site for a multi-User Facility approach to tackling DOE’s hardest science challenges and shows how successful integrated Facility-grounded science can be. FICUS on steroids. The hardest one of all is gene functions, grounded in the reality that gene products are not necessarily confined to one function, that many proteins don’t act as solitons but are components of molecular machines (for which we do not have good methods to characterize), that a bacterial cell has 4,000 – 5,000 “working parts” and a concentrated effort to “solve” a bacterial cell, while still a huge job, is not totally out of reach.
What will retirement look like for you?
Not sure, but initially it involves an extra hour of sleep, an extra cup of coffee, the absence of a 29 mile (35 – 45 minute) commute each way, and more quality time with the morning newspaper. Some naps may also be involved.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The feeling of privilege I have in having worked with JGI for the last 13 years, and the pride I have (I am retiring, I can say things like this) in everyone at JGI and the extraordinary progress you have made over those years, the terrific job all of you have done and continue to do, and the fantastic contributions you have made and are continuing to make to science. If there is another User Facility that explodes the Eddy Rubin “deletion test,” I don’t know what it is. You certainly are the jewel in BER’s crown, I think you may be in the Office of Science’s as well.
Effective October 1, 2018, Dr. Ramana Madupu takes over as the JGI Program Manager. Dr. Madupu is the BER Computational Biosciences Program Manager, and currently also manages the DOE’s Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase) program. The JGI and KBase will be co-located at the Integrative Genomics Building at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2019.