Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, said this week that he will step down from his post on Aug. 1 to focus on “writing projects and other professional opportunities.”
Collins has been director of NHGRI since April 1993 and led the Human Genome Project to its completion in 2003. He also guided a number of follow-up initiatives, such as the International HapMap Project, the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, the Knockout Mouse Project, the Mammalian Gene Collection, the Cancer Genome Atlas, the Molecular Libraries Initiative, and the Human Microbiome Project. Collins also founded an intramural program in genomics within the National Institutes of Health in 1993.
Alan Guttmacher, deputy director of NHGRI, will be appointed acting director of the institute on Aug. 1. NIH said that it will soon begin a formal search process for a permanent NHGRI director.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has named fifty-six new biomedical scientists as HHMI investigators.
Among the new investigators are:
Carlos Brody, associate professor of molecular biology at Princeton University; James Collins, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University; Michael Eisen, associate professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley; and Jonathan Pritchard, professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago.
Brody’s work has focused on computer models of neurons in the prefrontal cortex and the decision-making process in that brain region. He created a computer model using data from monkey studies in which the animals were trained to make decisions and select choices among options to simulate how a neuronal process flips from storing information in short-term memory weighing the options at hand to enabling a decision.
Collins’ lab has several focus areas. He is working on a combination of computational and experimental methods to reverse engineer gene regulatory networks in microbes and higher organisms. In the field of synthetic biology, he and his lab construct synthetic gene networks for several biotechnology applications.
Eisen’s lab includes geneticists, biochemists, and computer scientists who study fruit flies and other organisms such as fungi to learn how the genome specifies animal form as well as their shape. They look at the evolution of gene expression, its regulation, and its variation. Eisen also spearheaded the effort to sequence twelve Drosophila species and co-founded the Public Library of Science, which publishes peer-reviewed open access journals.
Pritchard studies various aspects of human genetic variation, applying mathematical and computational techniques. He uses computationally intensive approaches such as Markov chain Monte Carlo to examine large datasets to look at gene mapping of complex traits, the history of human populations, and the factors that contribute to genome variation and evolution.