Lander, Eric Steven (1957-), an American geneticist, has been one of the driving forces behind the revolution in genomics, the study of all the genes in an organism and how they function together in health and disease. Lander pioneered the development of laboratory, mathematical, and computational methods for mapping and sequencing the human genome and for exploring the genetic origins of complex traits such as heart disease and cancer.
As a teen-ager, Lander expected to become a mathematician. He was captain of the math team at Stuyvesant High School, a special math and science public school in New York City, and graduated at the top of his class in 1974. That year he won the Westinghouse Science Talent Search with a project on “quasi-perfect” numbers, which he suggested exist only in theory. He then went to Princeton University, where he studied mathematics and was the valedictorian of the class of 1978. As a Rhodes scholar, he earned a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from Oxford University in 1981 with a dissertation on an algebraic approach to symmetric designs. At 24, he joined the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, where he taught managerial economics.
Lander became interested in genetics when his brother, who was studying neurobiology, sent him articles in the field. He audited a Harvard biology course and, volunteering nights at a Harvard biology lab, he cloned genes from a fruit fly. In 1985, he met biologist David Botstein who enlisted Lander's help in developing statistical tools to track the genes involved in a disease.