Gesteland-White Auditorium Named in Tribute to U Geneticists' Legacy

On Monday, June 4, friends and family members of Ray Gesteland and Ray White, also known as “the Rays,” gathered together at the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics for a special rededication ceremony honoring their contribution to the formation of the University’s genetics program.

The auditorium on the first floor of the institute, a place where scientists, researchers and health professionals can gather together, will now be known as the Gesteland-White auditorium.  

Gesteland and White were co-chairs of the Department of Human Genetics and were Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators when the George and Dolores Eccles Institute of Human Genetics began construction in 1989.

Since the discovery of the double helix, the University of Utah has been a hotspot for innovation and uniquely positioned for advancing genetic science.

Today, the Utah Genome Project (UGP), which aims to research disease-causing genes through large-scale mapping and analysis, is at the forefront of precision medicine and population health. Nobel-prize winner Mario Capecchi has attracted top talent in laboratory research to investigate the basic physiological bases of health and disease. Also housed within the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics is the USTAR Center for Genetic Discovery (UCGD), an invaluable fixture which innovates the tools researchers and clinicians need to interpret complex genetic data.

Students, colleagues and long-time admirers of their work all took turns sharing cherished memories of the Rays, and how they shaped the world of genetics at the University of Utah, one of seven genome centers chosen to conduct large-scale mapping for the Human Genome Project which completed the first sequence of a human genome in 2003.

“Both Ray G. and Ray White took on leadership roles in the Human Genome Project,” said Bob Weiss, professor of human genetics. “They had the ability to see years ahead of everyone else.”

After serving as the executive director of the Huntsman Cancer institute for five years, White, who was not in attendance, spearheaded a new effort to study the fundamental basis of cancer. White is remembered by Gesteland for his genuine love of life — and incontrovertible sense of humor. Gesteland, a distinguished professor of human genetics, also filled the role of Vice President for Research. Much of Gesteland’s own work concentrated on ribosome function and mRNA processing.

“It’s a great honor for me and for Ray White to have this named after us,” said Gesteland. “It is greatly appreciated and I am humbled by it.”

White and Gesteland laid the foundation for a genetics program that would eventually rise to the top 10 in the nation. Their work pioneered the development of genetic research at the University of Utah.

During closing remarks, Dr. Lorris Betz once again thanked Gesteland and White for their contributions to the academic community. “Today, we recognize and thank Ray White and Ray Gesteland for the critical role they have played in perpetuating a culture of collaboration that is allowing us to make clinical care an effortless fusion between advanced science and compassionate medicine.”

Learn more:

Utah’s History of Genetic Innovation (The Scope Radio)

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