It hasn't taken long for George Weinstock to find his footing in his new home. Formerly the co-director of Baylor's Human Genome Sequencing Center, Weinstock reported this January to his new post as associate director at the genome center at Washington University in St. Louis. "It's pretty easy to go from being a director at one genome center to being a director at another," he says.
But the scope of research avenues at WashU is a real difference for Weinstock, and what motivated him to make the move. "It's nice to be at a genome center that is not solely connected with a medical school," he says, noting that at WashU he has access not only to clinical departments, but also to the full range of undergraduate programs. That means he has "a lot of elbow room to try new things," he says.
Weinstock's background has largely had a microbial bent, beginning with his pathogen biology work at the University of Texas Medical School, which he joined in the mid-'80s. In 1990, his team applied for one of the first grants to sequence an organism — Treponema pallidum, the microbe responsible for syphilis. That sequencing project was done in collaboration with The Institute for Genomic Research not long after Haemophilus influenzae became the first organism to have its genome sequenced.
Today, Weinstock's interest continues, and he spends a good deal of his time on the Human Microbiome Project. "You're now talking about sequencing and studying … all the microorganisms that colonize the human body," he says. "So for somebody like myself who's been working on microbial genomics … this is just tremendously exciting." Weinstock says that WashU's history in microbial work — and particularly its pioneering role in microbiome studies — played no small role in luring him from Baylor. In the future, he hopes that lower-cost sequencing will make it feasible to tie results of the Human Microbiome Project directly to clinically useful tools.
In 1998, Weinstock, who had been an advisor to the National Human Genome Research Institute, moved from the University of Texas to Baylor, where the genome center had just won its grant to participate in the Human Genome Project. "I went to Baylor and joined Richard Gibbs there because the scale of these grants were so large that you really needed more than one senior person to manage them," Weinstock says.