Bettie Graham retires after more than 50 years of federal service
NIH has a new director (and I have a new boss)! Monica Bertagnolli, M.D., was sworn in as the 17th NIH director last month. Dr. Bertagnolli is a surgeon and a scientist with a research program that focused on how inflammation causes cancer. She is a champion of promoting diversity in research and medicine, modernizing tools for data analysis, and restoring trust in science. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with her as she leads the nation’s premiere biomedical research agency. Dr. Bertagnolli is transitioning from her role as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a position she held since October 2022. Recently, the White House announced that President Biden intends to appoint W. Kimryn Rathmell, M.D., Ph.D., as Dr. Bertagnolli’s successor as the NCI director.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has not get passed a Fiscal Year 2024 budget, but we are “open for business” under a Continuing Resolution until February 2, 2024. The Continuing Resolution allows the federal government generally, and NHGRI specifically, to operate until a Fiscal Year 2024 budget is passed by Congress and signed by the president.
Lastly, I encourage you to join the National Association of Scholars on Tuesday, December 12, at 2 p.m. ET for "Unlocking the Genome: The Human Genome Project." The event will feature me, Aristides Patrinos, Ph.D., and Carlos Bustamante, Ph.D., and together we will discuss the history of the Human Genome Project and the impact it has had since its completion two decades ago.
All the best,
Bettie Graham retires after more than 50 years of federal service
With over 50 years of government service, it’s hard not to build a few reputations. Many people know NHGRI’s Director of Extramural Operations, Bettie Graham, Ph.D., for her wealth of knowledge, her resilience and determination, and as a champion for diversity in the genomics workforce. And some know Dr. Graham as an award-winning fencer or for bringing gallons of soup to campus for her NHGRI colleagues.
So many people in the genomics community have wonderful things to say about Dr. Graham. Instead of trying to summarize these comments, below are some quotes from Dr. Graham’s colleagues, mentees, and friends.
“I recruited Bettie as one of my first employees, and she has been worth her weight in gold,” said Elke Jordan, Ph.D., who was the NHGRI Deputy Director when Dr. Graham joined as the institute’s third employee in 1989. “She has blossomed at NHGRI and been valuable in many ways to both management and staff. I always valued her sage advice. We were lucky that she said yes when I asked her to join our nascent genome effort.”
“Bettie is truly the heartbeat of NHGRI,” said NHGRI Program Director Lucia Hindorff, Ph.D., M.P.H. “I have learned from her fierce dedication to people and her ability to center people in any challenging situation. She is the epitome of using knowledge for good.”
“Her legacy has spread far beyond the walls of NHGRI, as we all know,” said NHGRI Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., in his remarks that included his plans to rename NHGRI’s diversity, equity and inclusion awards in honor of Dr. Graham. “She has an unparalleled passion for mentoring people, for knowledge about all issues extramural, and a knack for all-around good judgment.” The announcement about the newly renamed award was part of the 100th meeting of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research in September 2023.
“Bettie was always the source of ground truth,” said Wendy Chung, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. “She knows it all, and everyone trusts and respects her for that. She powered and supported generations of scientists with the energy and vision to change the world.”
“Bettie is a person of yes,” said Michael Boehnke, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Michigan who leads the university’s genomics training program. “That is not to imply Bettie says yes to every request, but that she tries to find a way to get to yes for every reasonable request — and to rework or redefine in the face of apparent roadblocks or restrictions as needed to get to yes.”
“I have always admired Bettie for her selflessness, generosity, and her absolute unflappability in the face of the inevitable flappiness of daily life,” said Joy Boyer, a former program director in NHGRI’s Division of Genomics and Society. “I still don’t know how she does it, and even though I am now retired, I find that I still hope one day to grow up to be just like her!”
Perhaps University of Washington professor (and current member of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research) Gail Jarvik, Ph.D., best summarized how influential Dr. Graham has been when she said, “It is hard to envision NHGRI without Bettie. She has been a steady source of insight and great advice.”
Another current advisory council member, Nancy Cox, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University, pointed out that, “Our entire field owes Dr. Bettie Graham a huge thanks. The legions of young scientists who have grown to be the backbone of genome sciences under her watchful eye are a legacy that no one is likely to match!”
Dr. Graham will surely be missed after her retirement at the end of this month. Her contributions have been formally celebrated at several recent events, including the 100th meeting of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research and the 2023 NHGRI Symposium. There is no doubt that Dr. Graham’s friends and colleagues in the genomics community will continue to celebrate her and her career, just as she regularly celebrated them.
“Whenever one of our extramural funding opportunities is finally published, Bettie would always send an email letting us know with a link to a YouTube video of Kool & the Gang singing ‘Celebration,’” recalled Nicole Lockhart, Ph.D., a program director in NHGRI’s Division of Genomics and Society. “Writing funding opportunities is very important, but also a very tedious and time-consuming task. Getting that email reminded me that Bettie was always in our corner.”
NHGRI funds research centers to champion a diverse genomics research workforce
NHGRI and the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) have jointly awarded $6.4 million in first-year funding to establish Diversity Centers for Genome Research at three institutions that have not previously received significant NIH funding: the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Meharry Medical College, and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. These institutions all have a record or mission of recruiting, educating and graduating students from backgrounds underrepresented in the scientific workforce. By increasing the genomics research capacity at these institutions, more students from underrepresented backgrounds will have access to genomics research and technologies and be encouraged to pursue careers in genomics. The centers will support cutting-edge genomics research projects that will serve as a platform for training and also include community engagement cores to ensure that the research activities of the centers benefit their broader communities. The three funded centers represent the first cohort.
Read the web feature story: NIH establishes new Diversity Centers for Genome Research.
American Journal of Human Genetics series recaps NHGRI’s Bold Predictions
The 2020 NHGRI Strategic Vision for Human Genomics included a set of provocatively audacious “Bold predictions for human genomics by 2030.” These ten predictions were later used as a framework for a ten-part seminar series organized by Chris Gunter, Ph.D., Senior Advisor to the NHGRI Director for Genomics Engagement. Each session was recorded and made available on NHGRI’s YouTube channel, GenomeTV. Starting in November, most of these predictions and corresponding seminars will be further unpacked and discussed in a series of articles in the American Journal of Human Genetics. This new series of papers was kicked off with a brief introduction authored by Chris Gunter and Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D. entitled “To Boldly Go,” with the inaugural article written by Karen Miga, Ph.D., and Evan Eichler, Ph.D., entitled “Envisioning a new era: Complete genetic information from routine, telomere-to-telomere genomes.”
Learning series for healthcare professionals aims to increase pharmacogenomics literacy
As genomics becomes more integrated into clinical care, healthcare practitioners need concise and current resources to increase their genomic literacy. To help address this need, the Pharmacogenomics (PGx) Project Group of the Inter-Society Coordinating Committee for Practitioner Education in Genomics (ISCC-PEG), convened a multi-disciplinary team of PGx experts and educators to create the Pharmacogenomics Learning Series. Modules within the series can be taken independently free of charge or for continuing education credit, depending upon the learner’s needs. The series is hosted online by the University of Pittsburgh, with the content reviewed annually. Available modules cover pharmacogenomics nomenclature, pharmacogenomics resources, practical aspects of pharmacogenomics implementation, and direct-to-consumer pharmacogenomic testing. Using expert instructional design methodology, modules teach the subject matter, provide background and resources to guide learners, and include self-assessment questions to test for understanding.
Eric Green featured in webinar about population genomics in clinical practice
NHGRI Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., was recently featured in a webinar about population genomics in clinical practice. The webinar is part of a speaker series hosted by PhenoTips, a clinical genetics software company. In addition to Dr. Green, the webinar featured Julian Barwell, Ph.D., consultant in clinical genetics from the University Hospitals of Leicester, and Fiona Brinkman, Ph.D., distinguished professor in bioinformatics and genomics at Simon Fraser University. Together, they discussed the benefits, challenges, and practical implications of population genomics in the clinic.
A genome catalog of the early-life human skin microbiome
Shen et al.
Genome Biol. 2023 Nov 10;24(1):252. PMID: 37946302
Since the moment of birth, every person has abundant microbes on their skin. Just like one’s gut microbiome, these microbes play important roles in an individual’s health and wellbeing. Yet, most microbiome studies are performed on samples from adults, and very little is known about how microbiomes change throughout a person’s life. NHGRI investigator Julie Segre, Ph.D., and her research group sequenced DNA samples from the skin of over 200 babies to learn about infants’ microbial communities. From these data, the researchers created a catalog of over 1,000 species of bacteria and fungi, some of which were not previously known to be part of human skin microbiomes. The researchers also analyzed the genomes of these species to determine what proteins they encode, which is an important step towards understanding the functions of microbiomes residing in the skin of different species. DNA samples obtained from the skin of the parents showed notable microbiome sharing with their respective babies. These data can help inform additional microbiome research, especially research that examines skin disorders affecting infants.
About The Genomics Landscape
A monthly update from the NHGRI Director on activities and accomplishments from the institute and the field of genomics.
Last updated: December 7, 2023