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The Technology Front Line

  • Title: Faculty Research Instructor and Technology Development Group Leader,
    Washington University
  • Education: PhD, University of Idaho, 1999
  • Recommended by: Elaine Mardis

Were it not for genomics, Vince Magrini might still be thoroughly frustrating himself with Histoplasma capsulatum, a so-called dimorphic fungus that starts out in a mold form and, when triggered by the right temperature change, converts to a parasitic yeast.

Starting in 1999, Magrini was a postdoc with Bill Goldman at Washington University, where he had a particularly annoying challenge: per-forming genetics on Histoplasma. “It would never work,” Magrini recalls. “Every time you put DNA into the organism it would integrate everywhere and anywhere.” He and Goldman started talking about the possibilities of genomics, and Magrini got a tour of Elaine Mardis’ lab at the school's genome center. “She went through the [technology] development group and I thought, ‘Man, that would be a cool job.’”

Magrini wound up as a postdoc for both Goldman and Mardis, and he couldn’t have been in a better place at a better time. "That blossomed into running the new sequencing technologies," Magrini says. Today, he’s the group leader for the technology development group. As each next-gen sequencing platform becomes available for testing, it is his job to prepare the lab to bring it in. That means learning the system and the applications it can run, as well as putting the machine through its paces before handing it off to scientists who then start to use it for real sequencing projects.

Ever-evolving applications for the next-gen machines keep Magrini on his toes. He says ChIP-seq work is a great example of how the technology continues to expand into new spaces, and adds that his team works with a number of collaborators to foster this expansion; examples include looking at microRNA expression levels and establishing phylogenies of isolates of a clade. “Every day my job is expanding,” Magrini says. “I’m always learning something new.”

Magrini credits his PhD advisor, Philip Youderian, for teaching him to be independent and providing a “figure it out yourself” type of environment. “I have scarring memories,” Magrini laughs, calling Youderian “very inspiring.”

Looking ahead

Magrini, who has the distinct advantage of getting to play with next-gen sequencing technologies long before most people are able to try them out, says that the next wave of interest in these tools will be in the form of single-molecule and nanotech approaches to sequencing.

He says that future technologies will have to provide a better solution for paired reads than he’s seen so far, though. “I still think getting this whole paired-end paradigm worked out is one of the major technological stumbling blocks,” he says. “The processes work, but they’re really long and arduous — and we don’t know how efficient they are.” That will be a critical step in getting sequencing to be a viable player in studies of structural variation. Lowering costs will also be crucial; Magrini says that getting sequencing to the point of an “inexpensive diagnostic tool” for microbial strain typing or human genome analysis will make a major difference in the clinical realm.

That’s not to say Magrini will always be involved in sequencing work. His bacterial genetics background is still what’s “most near and dear to me” on the scientific front, he says. But for the time being, he’s clearly enjoying where he is.

Publications of note

Magrini was a co-author on a paper published this May in Virology Journal entitled “Genome-wide diversity and selective pressure in the human rhinovirus.” The paper, with Joe DeRisi listed as senior author, presented findings on genetic diversity of human rhinoviruses by comparing sequences of a number of virus strains.

The Scan

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Genetically predicted high blood pressure risk is also associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk, a new JAMA Cardiology study says.

Circulating Tumor DNA Linked to Post-Treatment Relapse in Breast Cancer

Post-treatment detection of circulating tumor DNA may identify breast cancer patients who are more likely to relapse, a new JCO Precision Oncology study finds.

Genetics Influence Level of Depression Tied to Trauma Exposure, Study Finds

Researchers examine the interplay of trauma, genetics, and major depressive disorder in JAMA Psychiatry.

UCLA Team Reports Cost-Effective Liquid Biopsy Approach for Cancer Detection

The researchers report in Nature Communications that their liquid biopsy approach has high specificity in detecting all- and early-stage cancers.