Posts in category JCVI

Scientist Spotlight: Sinem Beyhan, Ph.D.

Sinem Beyhan, Ph.D. recently joined the JCVI team as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and is working closely with Dr. Bill Nierman, Director of JCVI’s Infectious Diseases Program to expand our studies on fungal pathogens. Sinem is interested in understanding how pathogenic fungi can sense and respond to their environment and cause disease. Her current focus is investigating how the fungal pathogen Histoplasma capsulatum uses mammalian host temperature as a signal to alter cell morphology and virulence traits to infect human and mammalian hosts.

Dr. Sinem Beyhan

Dr. Sinem Beyhan

Sinem was born in Turkey. At a young age, she was infinitely curious about the world around her, asking how and why at every opportunity. She was a successful student and was supported by her parents and teachers. Sinem’s early exposure to science was limited. Growing up she did not have access to science camps or scientific experimentation in the classroom. Although culturally girls were pushed away from science and engineering studies, Sinem never heard “no” or “you can’t.”   During high school biology she began her exploration of how organisms work. Even though the class was all memorization, Sinem’s teacher encouraged her to ask questions and to study. Sinem attended the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey to study genetics and molecular biology. She decided to focus on microbiology and left Turkey for the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) in 2003.

At UCSC, Sinem would begin her investigation of pathogens. During this time she focused on Vibrio cholerae, the etiologic agent of the disease cholera. Another significant event occurred during her time at UCSC, Sinem met her advisor Dr. Fitnat Yildiz. Dr. Yildiz also happened to be a Turkish woman, and the two researchers clicked immediately. They published 14 papers together. After receiving her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology, Sinem decided to stay in the United States. She moved to the University of California, San Francisco for her postdoctoral research. Here, Sinem would be mentored by Dr. Anital Sil, and she would shift her focus to fungal pathogens.

After being mentored by scientists like Drs. Yildiz and Sil, two intelligent women who inspired Sinem and showed her that it is possible to balance research and a family, it is not surprising that Sinem also thrives in the role of adviser. She has mentored students throughout her graduate and postdoctoral posts. In addition to establishing her lab at JCVI, Sinem’s is excited to be part of the training programs at JCVI. She also wants to inspire students and interns to pursue a career in science. Although Sinem jokes that her mother now wishes she had told Sinem “no” when she wanted to leave Turkey (it is challenging being so far from her family), it is clear that our new scientist will continue to encourage her team and interns that they “can.”

In addition to uncovering the mechanisms of fungal pathogens, Sinem is also passionate about running, scuba diving, and playing games with her 1-year-old daughter.

2015: JCVI Marks Another Banner Year

jcvi-timeline-2015

JCVI Gala “2015: A Genome Odyssey” Celebrates Discovery

On October 24th, JCVI welcomed 200 guests to our third annual gala “2015: A Genome Odyssey.”  Our annual gala has become a signature La Jolla event, and this year’s guests were not disappointed.  Guests experienced an evening odyssey through land, sea and space interacting with JCVI scientists to learn first-hand what explorations are happening today.  Proceeds from the gala will support JCVI’s Innovation Fund.

As in past galas, our research was the focus. Guests learned how scientists Chris Dupont, Ph.D. and Jeff Hoffman collect, filter and analyze the organisms we find as part of our Global Ocean Sampling Expedition. They also saw a demonstration by Orianna Bretschger, Ph.D. on how microbial fuel cells can be used to clean wastewater streams.

JCVI Global Ocean Sampling scientist Jeff Hoffman demonstrates the filtration process used on board Sorcerer II.

JCVI Global Ocean Sampling scientist Jeff Hoffman demonstrates the filtration process used on board Sorcerer II.

Orianna Bretschger, PhD, explains how microbial fuel cell technology hef lab developed works.

Orianna Bretschger, PhD, explains how microbial fuel cell technology her lab developed works.

During the dinner program, Craig Venter, Ph.D. and Board Vice Chairman Erling Norrby, M.D., Ph.D. led guests through our timeline of discovery over the past 20 years. Craig also celebrated the career of Hamilton O. Smith. M.D., JCVI Distinguished Professor and Scientific Director, and presented him with JCVI’s inaugural Innovation Award.  Throughout his career, Ham has been at the forefront of discoveries that have advanced the field of molecular biology.  Ham received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “discoveries with far reaching consequences for genetics.”  His methods have indeed led to innumerable breakthroughs by scientists around the globe, and his own work has led to some of the most profound discoveries in modern science.

Dr. J. Craig Venter presents JCVI's Innovation Award to Dr. Hamilton Smith.

Dr. J. Craig Venter presents JCVI’s Innovation Award to Dr. Hamilton Smith.

All attendees agreed it was another beautiful and inspiring evening. Thank you to event sponsors BioMed Realty, CapitalOne, Human Longevity, Inc., Synthetic Genomics, NuVasive, CBRE, JLL, Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation, Celgene, Reena Horowitz, Iris and Matt Strauss and the Beyster Family Foundation Fund.  Guests also delighted in our gift bags again this year.  Sponsored by Kowalski Communications, the Esperos backpack was filled with donations from Tata Harper, Blue Lizard, Health Warrior, La Fresh, Thrive Market, Moon Cheese, Aromaflage, Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, The Lodge Torrey Pines, Rite in the Rain and Waters Fine Foods & Catering.

Thank you to our Gift Bag Sponsors!

Thank you to our Gift Bag Sponsors!

For more information on JCVI’s 2016 gala, please contact Katie Collins at kcollins@jcvi.org.

June Grant Update

Congratulations to our JCVI Principal Investigators for the several successful grants that were awarded or that we received notification of in the month of June. All of the following PIs received official confirmation of awards to be made to them. Christopher Dupont, John Glass, Granger Sutton, Daniel Gibson, Charles Merryman, Rembert Pieper, Richard Scheuermann, Christopher Town, Reed Shabman, Orianna Bretschger, Sanjay Vashee and Sarah Highlander to the sum of $6,365,099. The topics of these awards ranged from synthetic approaches to studying the human microbiome, vaccine development, protein modeling, studies on tuberculosis strain diversity, and immune profiling.

Of notable mention are the awards to be made to Sanjay Vashee $1,879,282 from the NSF (BREAD supplement that will allow for an extension of the current program focused on developing a synthetic vaccine for Bovine pleuropneumonia), Reed Shabman from DHS ($1,135,654; The development and validation of sequence subtraction databases to improve virus discovery through next generation sequencing – special acknowledgement to Tim Stockwell and Derek Harkins for their contributions to this proposal), and to Chris Town from NSF ($883,704; Federated Plant Data Base Initiative for Legumes).

A sincere Congratulations to the team.

Q&A with Jessie J. Knight, Jr.

The JCVI CEO Council is a small group of distinguished men and women who are thought leaders in business, medicine, law, the arts and humanities, and community affairs. JCVI is fortunate to have individuals willing to serve as knowledgeable and enthusiastic ambassadors for our scientists and their research, and we are excited to introduce you to our inaugural member, Jessie J. Knight, Jr., Executive Vice President for External Relations at Sempra Energy. Knight is a board member of the Seattle-based Alaska Air Group and Alaska Airline, life member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and member of the corporate council of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Knight is a well-respected businessman and philanthropist in San Diego. He is also a frustrated musician and has been playing jazz guitar for 30 years. For the past 5 years Knight has been playing the Chinese instrument called Erhu. The entire JCVI team is thrilled to have access to all of Knight’s talents and resources.

Jessie J. Knight, Jr.

Jessie J. Knight, Jr.

You are a native of Missouri. How did you end up in San Diego?

I moved to San Diego in 1999 from San Francisco after serving for six (6) years as the commissioner for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), after being appointed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. I was recruited to be the president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

You and your wife, Joye Blount, are respected philanthropists in San Diego. How important is giving back to your community?

As the executive vice president of external affairs for Sempra Energy and with Joye being a Wealth Advisor at US Bank of the Private Client Reserve, we have a professional duty to be present and active in the community and it serves our personal philanthropic interests as well. We have a special interest for organizations that cater to military families, education, improving health and the support of women.

How did you become interested in the J. Craig Venter Institute?

Joye and I have a special interest in JCVI as we have been following the impact of the discovery of the human genome. We believe it’s not only going to have an economic impact in San Diego but also on health worldwide. We believe gaining a better understanding of genetic diseases will allow for improved health and the opportunity to change the course of medicine.

We are excited to have you join the JCVI CEO Council. What do you hope to accomplish in this new role?

Joye and I have had the opportunity to build many great relationships with many individuals and organizations. We’d like to expose JCVI to those we know and increase the reach of JCVI and drive community involvement and philanthropic support to the great work of JCVI.

What environmental/health goals do you personally hope to see JCVI tackle?

I have a personal interest in learning more about the possibilities for gene therapy. My family has been dealing with a genetic disorder for many years, and I’m hoping with my involvement with JCVI that I can understand the opportunities that genomics has for new possible treatments for rare genetic disorders.

Dr. Venter Delivers UCSD 2015 School of Medicine Commencement


Continue reading ‘Dr. Venter Delivers UCSD 2015 School of Medicine Commencement’

Johns Hopkins Announces Inaugural Recipient of Hamilton Smith Award for Innovative Research

JCVI’s Hamilton O. Smith, MD has been recognized by Johns Hopkins University with a research award in his honor. The inaugural recipient of the award is Jie Xiao, an associate professor of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 for his discovery of restriction enzymes, work he conducted while he was a young faculty member at Johns Hopkins.

Meet Richard Scheuermann, Ph.D., JCVI’s Director of Bioinformatics

Richard H. Scheuermann, Ph.D., who joined JCVI in 2012 from the University of Texas Southwestern as the Director of Bioinformatics, is an accomplished researcher and educator. He and his team apply their deep knowledge in molecular immunology and infectious disease to develop novel computational data mining methods and knowledge representation approaches.

Richard Scheuermann

Richard Scheuermann, Ph.D., JCVI’s Director of Bioinformatics

From an early age, Richard was very interested in science and the living world around him.  He was a curious child who loved to explore the ponds and fields in his hometown of Warwick, New York.   This rural community in upstate New York is covered with dairy farms and apple orchards.  He demonstrated an early aptitude for math and science and was fortunate to have talented high school teachers who recognized his potential.   Although neither of Richard’s parents were college educated, they encouraged his academic pursuits.  When Richard and his father met the high school guidance counselor, Richard told of his intention to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  The response from the counselor was a resounding, “There is no way you’ll ever get in.” Richard applied to MIT (and only MIT) anyway, and was accepted by early decision.

At MIT Richard intended to pursue a career in chemical engineering (CE) but to his surprise, he found that he loathed the CE classes.  While trying to identify a new study path, Richard took a biochemistry class to fulfill a CE requirement.  This class would change Richard’s career path.  While at MIT, Richard worked in the lab of Annamaria Torrianni-Gorini, Ph.D. and received first hand experience in conducting scientific research.  He was inspired by his peers and professors and had found his calling. During this time he also had the privilege to study with Salvador Luria, Ph.D., David Baltimore, Ph.D., David Botstein, Ph.D., and Phil Sharp, Ph.D., all luminaries in their fields. Richard received a B.S. in Life Sciences from MIT in 1981.

Richard went on to complete his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.  After completing his doctoral research on bacterial replication fidelity at U.C. Berkeley with Hatch Echols, Ph.D., Richard was offered his own research lab in Europe.  He accepted an independent research position at the Basel Institute for Immunology in Switzerland, where he identified the CDP protein as a critical regulator of immunoglobin gene expression and the role of nuclear matrix attachment in transcription regulation.

Although Richard had trained as a molecular biologist, in 1992 he was recruited into the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (U.T. Southwestern) in Dallas.  Apprehensive at the beginning to find himself in a clinical department, as he had at every previous crossroads, Richard quickly embraced the opportunity before him.  He changed his research focus to disease and disease pathogenesis, and he rose to the rank of Professor with tenure. Richard established a robust research program at U.T. Southwestern investigating signal transduction pathways that regulate normal lymphocyte development and function and that induce cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and dormancy in lymphomas. This important work was supported through numerous research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and other granting agencies.  In the Pathology Department, he also worked on the development and validation of novel diagnostic methods for viruses that mediate chronic infectious disease and for chromosomal translocations that drive leukemia and lymphoma development.

Half way through his U.T. Southwestern career, Richard had found life in the wet lab less and less fulfilling.  Through his involvement in several high-throughput research projects Richard realized that it was becoming relatively easy to generate lots of data but more difficult to analyze the information.  And so he decided to take a sabbatical year at the San Diego Supercomputer Center to immerse himself into the emerging field of bioinformatics. After his time in San Diego, Richard was drawn into the bioinformatics discipline, and he redirected his career with three research and development proposals funded in rapid succession.

Richard established a very successful bioinformatics program at U.T. Southwestern; however, he was searching for new opportunities to expand on his success.  In 2012, the invitation to join JCVI, a “bleeding-edge research institution that valued informatics” could not be ignored.

As the Director of Bioinformatics at JCVI, Richard leads a multi-disciplinary team of computational biologists. Richard and his team continue to develop novel computational methods to accelerate data mining and statistical analysis. These methods have been made available to the research community through several public database and analysis resources, including the Influenza Research Database (IRD; www.fludb.org), the Virus Pathogen Resource (ViPR; www.viprbrc.org) and the Immunology Database and Analysis Portal (ImmPort; www.immport.org) supported by the National Institutes of Health. His current research is focused on human pathogenic viruses—how they spread and cause disease.  He is a part of the elite community that responds to virus outbreaks, such as the recent Ebola and Enterovirus D68 occurrences.  This “real time sorting out” of emerging infectious diseases keeps his still curious New York state of mind engaged and excited about his work.

In his spare time Richard enjoys swimming, soccer and skiing and spending time with his wife, Nancy, and sons, Alex and Derek.  Over the past thirteen years, he has studied martial arts, earning his first-degree black belt.   As it was in the outskirts of Warwick, Richard continues to explore his new San Diego environment, and is rapidly becoming an avid sailor.

Richard’s commitment and determination to a path, whether on the high seas or in the lab, are unrivaled.  Like him, his peers at JCVI are excited to see where his research will take us next.

In Memory of Dr. J. Robert Beyster

The JCVI family mourns the loss of a true friend and generous supporter, Dr. J. Robert Beyster.  Dr. Beyster was a World War II Veteran, a nuclear engineer whose research propelled the Department of Defense’s weapons systems and submarines into the future of war fighting, but most notably, he founded Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), an employee-owned multi-billion dollar corporation.

Bob and Betty Beyster

Bob and Betty Beyster

The Beyster Family have been generous supporters of science programs at the JCVI since 2009 when they, along with matching funds from Life Technologies Foundation, sponsored a two year leg of the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition. This substantial support from the Beyster Family enabled sampling research of microbial life in the waters of the Baltic, Mediterranean, and Black Seas. These are scientifically important because they are among the world’s largest seas isolated from the major oceans. To date more than 80 million new genes and protein families have been discovered as part of the Sorcerer II Expedition.

The Beysters have also supported JCVI scientist Andy Allen, Ph.D. and his Southern California Upwelling Sampling Project. Dr. Allen has conducted sampling expeditions along the Southern California coast to better understand the microbes living in these waters. Dr. Beyster participated in 8 of the 11 sampling excursions that were conducted from his own boat, Solutions. He blogged about a major regional dinoflagellate bloom that was sampled as part of this project.

Importantly, this work has led to an exciting new San Diego-based collaboration between JCVI, NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) to integrate genome-enabled techniques and technologies (i.e., ‘omics) into the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisherines Investigations (CalCOFI).  CalCOFI is a multi-partner, long-term ecosystem and fisheries study off the coast of California in it’s 7th decade.

The most recent $2.5 Million gift in 2012 for the completion of the new J. Craig Venter Institute sustainable laboratory was recognized by naming the third floor ocean view conference room and terrace the “Bob and Betty Beyster Conference Room” and the “Bob and Betty Beyster Terrace”.

Beyster Conference Room and Terrace

Left: Looking up at the Beyster Conference Room and Terrace from the ground floor. Right: Sunset on the Beyster Terrace.

Dr. Beyster will be greatly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.  We are fortunate to have a constant a reminder of his generosity and support.  A link to his obituary can be found here.

Warm Wishes

It has been another year and with that more fungus in my life (and another more human bundle of joy). I tried my best to get these fungus to behave (and my children) but we can’t always control them. So below is my newest artwork. It says Warm Wishes and is as cozy and warm (and fuzzy) of a cabin I could get with fungus. Enjoy and happy holidays to you.

Warm Wishes

Snow and smoke: Neosartorya fischeri 181; Wreath and ‘Warm wishes’: Aspergillus nidulans A4; Cabin: Aspergillus terreus 20843. Image: Stephanie Mounaud / JCVI

Inoculating loops roasting in an open fire
The negative 80 nipping at your fingers
The incubators beeping like a choir
And the aroma of bacteria just seems to linger

Everybody knows resistance and recombination
Help to give us such a fright
Teeny Tiny Bacteria with their constant mutations
Will make it hard for us to sleep at night

But they all know that scientists will find a way
We’re using sequencing and synthetic life
And every single strand of DNA
To see if we can really end the lifelong strife

And so really think before you join the craze,
You will be in the lab every day.
Although it’s rewarding, many times we’re in a daze
But we do take a break for the happy holidays!