Obama taps geneticist for NIH post

President Obama will nominate famed geneticist Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the White House announced Wednesday.

Collins oversaw the completion of the groundbreaking Human Genome Project, which compiled a complete map of the makeup of human genes, while the director of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

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Collins was widely considered for months to be the lead contender for the post helming the prestigious biomedical research agency, which has an annual budget of more than $30 billion.

The NIH's budget doubled during the two previous administrations and Obama has vowed to increase it even more.

The agency got a $10 billion boost in this year's economic stimulus bill. Obama's budget request calls for a $443 million boost in the NIH's budget for next fiscal year.

Notably, the White House announced Obama's intent to nominate Collins two days after the NIH unveiled its final guidelines on funding embryonic stem cell research.

This type of stem cell research is highly controversial because embryos are destroyed in the process of deriving the cells. Stem cells from embryos are prized by scientists, however, because of their potential to be converted into virtually any type of human tissue, which means they could prove key to developing treatments for countless ailments.

President Obama issued an executive order in March that freed up federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Bush twice vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have expanded federal funding in this area. Obama has said he would sign such a bill.