Last month started with a flurry of rumors as news got out that Claire Fraser-Liggett had resigned from her post as president and director of the Institute for Genomic Research. Despite broad speculation that she was on her way to one of the big genome centers, it turns out that Fraser-Liggett’s new home isn’t even a home yet. Beginning this month, she’ll be heading up — and starting up — a brand new Institute of Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
She won’t be alone. A number of her fellow TIGR colleagues will be trekking across the state with Fraser-Liggett; at press time the exact number was not final, but “I’m expecting probably six or seven faculty members will move with me,” she says. That will include their full research operations, from lab staff to grants.
Ultimately, Fraser-Liggett says the new institute will probably have about 15 faculty members. “What I would very much like to do with this opportunity is to move beyond a lot of what we’ve been doing in the microbial genomics area to start to get into human genomics [and] to get into various diseases,” she says. Microbial work will still be part of her bailiwick — Fraser-Liggett expects to continue her collaborations on pathogens — and she’s already begun conversations with faculty from different departments at Maryland to talk about other avenues her institute will pursue. “There’s a big job ahead in setting something up from scratch,” she says.
Fraser-Liggett says talks about the move to Maryland’s medical school began in mid-November of last year. A month earlier, her ex-husband Craig Venter managed to gain control of TIGR, bringing the institute under the umbrella of his Venter Institute.
Fraser-Liggett says that after nine years of heading up TIGR, she was ready for a change. Former institute colleagues who had moved to academia were poster children for how many more resources were available in the university setting, she says. “I was really starting to suffer from that same frustration in trying to do a number of things I was interested in — [but being] always reliant on finding collaborators who could provide me access to animal facilities, as one example.”
The University of Maryland had recently renewed its hopes to get a major genomics initiative going, and “for me the timing was just ideal,” Fraser-Liggett says. The school has provided money to build space for the new institute and startup funds to hire new faculty, she adds.
One of the reasons Fraser-Liggett is so eager to get going on her new institute is that, as she puts it, “once again the field is at a crossroads.” She believes the technology race to get to the $1,000 genome will have tremendous implications across the field. “The sequencing center of the future is going to look very different than the sequencing centers of the past,” she predicts. “This is an opportunity to start over and hopefully learn from everything we’ve done in the past.”