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News at the Top: Claire M. Fraser-Liggett, Institute for Genome Sciences

In my senior year of college, I did research with a doctor that got me excited about what a career in medical research was all about.

I went through the process of applying to medical schools and going on interviews, but I started having this feeling that what I really wanted to do was research.

I made a somewhat late decision in my senior year to abandon plans for medical school and start looking for graduate schools. I spent four years doing graduate studies within pharmacology and have had absolutely no regrets.

I did the intramural program at the National Institutes of Health in the Neurology Institute. After being there about five years, I was recruited to start my own lab at an alcoholism institute. At the time, my graduate training and the work that I was doing at NIH was all focused on G-protein-coupled receptors that are found on the surface of essentially all cells in the body and are critically important in cell-to-cell communication.

It was a wonderful time to be at the NIH because this is when the field of microbiology was really getting started and I had access to incredible resources.

Toward the end of my time at the NIH, a brand-new opportunity came along to leave the NIH and start what became the Institute for Genomic Research.

This new opportunity allowed me to enter into genomics at a time when it hadn't really become a field. One of the things that attracted me was thinking about how to apply large-scale DNA sequencing and analysis to the receptors that I was working on.

In 1995, we published the first paper in the Journal of Science describing the techniques that were starting to form the basis for the genomics revolution, which could be used to sequence the complete genetic blueprint of a bacteria species. This was the first time this had been done, and it opened up the whole field of microbial genomics, which I've been involved in since then.

I remained at TIGR for 15 years, focusing much of my attention on applying these techniques to the study of various microbial organisms but also having the privilege of being involved in a number of other projects such as plant genome and the first parasite genome.

I eventually took over as the director, and under my leadership our grant funding grew almost fourfold, to nearly $80 million when I left.

I eventually had a desire to do additional studies. An opportunity presented itself at the University of Maryland, where the medical school had targeted genomics as one of the pillars of its strategic plan.

There's been a lot of excitement generated by our arrival and the ability to integrate our genomics approaches into some of the research people have been doing for many years. It's a great match.

--Interview with Vanessa Mizell

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