Victor McKusick, R.I.P.

The genetics world lost one of its pioneers this week - Victor McKusick died of cancer at age 86, at his home in Baltimore. McKusick was a professor of genetics at Johns Hopkins University for most of his career.

Dr. McKusick was known as the father of medical genetics, and became famous for his tireless efforts, beginning in the 1960's, at cataloging all human genes associated with disease. Eventually he compiled these into a book, Mendelian Inheritance in Man (the first edition appeared in 1966), which later became the widely-referenced database Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man, or just OMIM. OMIM is so central to research that it moved, many years ago now, to NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information, which also houses GenBank. Over the years, this collection has grown from just a few genes to 18,850 entries today. (Many genes are linked to more than one disease.)

McKusick "retired" from Hopkins in 1985 but continued working, and was a big presence when I joined the faculty there in 1989. I only met him briefly, and I wish I'd had the chance to get to know him. He was a true visionary. I recommend the extensive Wikipedia entry to anyone who wants to know more about Victor McKusick.

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