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Stanford's Myers Finds Sweet New Home in Alabama

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Rick Myers’ name has long been synonymous with the genome sequencing center he runs at Stanford University. So it’s a surprise to some people that Myers, and the genome center too, will be uprooting for a move to a relatively new research institute in Hunstville, Ala.

Even Myers is a bit surprised. A native of Alabama, he has been on the scientific advisory board of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology since its founding in 2005. He had been helping with the recruitment process for a director and says “it had not occurred to me at all to consider” taking the post himself. But when the members of the institute approached him directly about the possibility of bringing him on board as director, he says, “it became so interesting that I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

HudsonAlpha was founded by Jim Hudson, who made his own name in the genomics field with his company Research Genetics, an oligo and cloning vendor that supported much of the Human Genome Project. Hudson went on to help or start a number of biotechs, including Open Biosystems, and eventually decided to launch a nonprofit research institute that would apply genomics and proteomics technologies toward understanding disease.

Myers says one of the things that he finds attractive about the institute is the lessons it’s taken from academia. In the interest of fostering an environment that’s “a lot more cohesive and cooperative than you’re encouraged to be in academia,” Myers says, the institute has done away with tenure, rewarding staff members instead based on how much they work with others. “Genomics is so interdisciplinary. The idea that you have to show that you’re completely independent” — a standard requirement for tenure — “is not good for the genomics field,” he says.

Myers is currently recruiting faculty. He has space for 15 members in the first few years, and with a new, 270,000-square-foot building opening soon, will eventually broaden that out to about 40 faculty members. He expects that institute staff will have collaborations with universities — he will continue to work closely with Stanford, he says — and local organizations. “It’s an unusual opportunity for people,” he says. “It’ll be a great place for young people and others to get their careers in this field.”

A major goal of the institute’s, and one that jibes well with Myers’ own efforts over the years, is to invest resources in an outreach program to educate the public and especially kids in school. “The education is not just a little add-on,” Myers says. “It will be a significant arm. We’re dedicating some of the prime real estate in this [new] building to teaching labs.”

Myers’ lab will continue to focus on next-gen sequencing methods, including “Solexa, ABI SOLiD, and any of the other new ones that are coming up,” he says. Myers spent 15 years at Stanford, and seven years prior to that at the University of California, San Francisco. He will officially make the transition to HudsonAlpha next summer.

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