Last summer a crack of slugger Mark McGwire's bat slammed a very special baseball into the hands of fan and genome scientist Philip Ozersky. The ball brought McGwire his record-setting 70th homer. And this week it made 26-year-old Ozersky rich, selling for just over $3 million at a New York auction.
"It was really wild hearing those numbers go higher and higher," Ozersky told Science. Chump change for Bill Gates, perhaps, but as Ozersky puts it, "a lot of money." Ozersky says he will donate part of his catch to the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia Society of America, and a charity set up by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ozersky works as a "finisher" at Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The first stage of shot gun sequencing produces long stretches of decoded DNA; Ozersky's job is to puzzle out how those bits fit together and fill in the inevitable gaps. Over a million base pairs have passed through Ozersky's care, some belonging to the recently completed nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans (ScienceNow, 10 December 1998).
Appropriately, Ozersky attended the auction wearing a tie adorned with a double helix. "I'm not usually quite the fashion person," he says. "I was planning to bring a different tie ... but my girlfriend said, how about [the DNA] one?" Ozersky says he has no plans for now to buy a yacht and sail off into the sunset: He's anxious to get back to work, where his group is working on human chromosome 22.