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Obama names gene guru Francis Collins NIH chief

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is choosing an influential scientist who helped unravel the human genetic code — and is known for finding common ground between belief in God and science — to head the National Institutes of Health.

Obama called Dr. Francis Collins "one of the top scientists in the world" in announcing his nomination Wednesday. "His groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease," Obama said.

The NIH is the nation's premiere medical research agency, directing $29.5 billion to spur innovative science that leads to better health. Collins would come to the job not just with the scientific credentials, but with a reputation for translating the complexities of DNA into language the everyday American can understand.

The folksy Collins led the Human Genome Project that, along with a competing private company, mapped the genetic code — or, as he famously called it, "the book of human life."

For that work, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award. But he may be more widely known for his 2007 best-selling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

And this spring Collins, 59, was named one of GQ magazine's "Rock Stars of Science," posing in cool shades as part of a publicity campaign to bring celebrity to science.

Collins has discovered numerous genes important for diseases, including the one that leads to cystic fibrosis.

NIH is familiar turf: Collins spent 15 years as the NIH's chief of genome research before stepping down last year to, among other things, work with Obama's campaign.

Obama names gene guru Francis Collins NIH chief 07/08/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 11:36pm]

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