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From Einstein to Harvard, Grills Finds Himself in Genomics Limelight

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Few careers in research read like a list of movies. But George Grills’ resumé, in fact, does. Grills, director of DNA sequencing at the Harvard Partners Genome Center, has been involved in various blockbuster research efforts including stints spent studying the effects of microgravity on fertilization and development for the potential of space colonization, searching for DNA in triceratops teeth fossils à la Jurassic Park, and now an IMAX movie, sponsored by the HPGC, to educate the public about genomics, his current area of research.

While film crews are not yet traipsing around the Cambridge facilities, life has been busy for Grills, 45, who moved to Boston a year ago from his native New York, where he helped establish and run the sequencing, genotyping, oligonucleotide synthesis, and microarray facilities at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“I really liked Albert Einstein and … we had a really well- established group there. I helped start up a number of core facilities from scratch, so it was basically like a family,” Grills says. “It was just the scale of the opportunity of doing something extraordinary that drew me to working at the HPGC. It is remarkable: the resources, the people, and the types of programs they are putting into place here.”

The HPGC is part of the Harvard Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics. Headed by Raju Kucherlapati, also formerly of Albert Einstein, it is a $50 million venture between Harvard Medical School and Partners Healthcare, and hospitals affiliated with the medical school including Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In addition, HPGC has partnerships with private companies such as Zyomyx to establish the high-throughput technologies at its facilities.

The DNA sequencing group will continue its work on the mouse genome begun at Albert Einstein, and Grills sees many “extremely interesting applications” in its future, including resequencing and sequencing additional organisms. Other research at the center includes a microarray effort for human, mouse, and Drosophila, and a clinical diagnostics effort to determine genes involved in deafness.

“The genome center has the focus of high-throughput genomic technologies, and we have a number of different efforts,” says Grills. The center is currently beta-testing methods to increase the quality of sequencing and obtain longer read lengths.

“There is always a logic puzzle on how to make them work best, and they are crucial to the larger picture in getting these large-scale research projects realized and making them doable,” Grills says. “I enjoy being in fields that are pioneering new ways of doing things.”

— Dana Frisch

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