William James Kent, who goes by Jim, is a research scientist at the University of California Santa Cruz. He is best known for producing the first assembly of the human genome and the human genome browser at UCSC. He studied math and art in college, and went on to a career making paint and animation programs for computers. These include the award winning Aegis Animator on the Amiga, Cyber Paint on the Atari ST, and Autodesk Animator on the PC.
One day, when the Microsoft Windows 95 developer's platform arrived on 12 CD-ROMs, Kent freaked out at the complexity of software development. Reasoning that the human genome could fit on one CD-ROM and didn't change every three months, he decided to change careers to bioinformatics. After a year studying basic biology and chemistry at community college and another year studying more advanced biology at the University of California Extension, he entered the Molecular, Cell, and Developmental biology PhD program at UC Santa Cruz. As a graduate student, he built a browser for the C. elegans genome.
As fate would have it, Kent was at the right place at the right time with the right tools to quickly develop a program that could assemble the public sequence of the human genome just days before Celera assembled their private sequence of the human genome.
Kent went on to write a browser for the human genome that is used by many thousands of biomedical researchers every day. His main focus these days is to understand the genome, particularly the elaborate control systems that turn genes on and off in a coordinated fashion. These control systems are key to understanding how an entire human body can develop from a single egg cell.