Posts in category Microbial & Environmental Genomics

JCVI Researchers Receive Two-year, $962,500 Grant from U.S. Department of Justice for “Construction of the Forensic Microbiome Database with Enhanced Geosourcing”

The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) was recently awarded a two-year, $962,500 award from the United States Department of Justice to help design and build an open-access microbiome database for the forensic science community. The Forensic Microbiome Database (FMD), the first of its kind in the forensic community, will be populated with several thousand microbiome datasets and associated metadata available from the public domain. The database will be based on established procedures for database development designed at the JCVI, incorporating expansive sets of data and metadata that relate to forensic evidence.

The JCVI team will develop written standards for quality control of the data and the procedures to be used for data entry. The research team comprises Principal Investigator Rhonda Roby, Ph.D., co-Principal Investigator Lauren Brinkac, M.S., Karen Nelson, Ph.D., and Shibu Yooseph, Ph.D.

The JCVI team will also sequence and populate the database with 1,000 microbiome samples obtained from five distinct regions worldwide. Sequence signatures from paired stool and oral samples will be compared to their geographic origins to evaluate the ability to “geosource”. Geosourcing will be studied for its potential use as investigative leads for law enforcement personnel.

In addition to being the first of its kind database, the goals of this research are to: provide a host location and continuous monitoring of the database; define well-structured standard operating procedures for data generation and searching against and uploading data into the FMD; and test the utility of the FMD by sequencing a range of samples obtained geographically for querying and proof of concept against the database. The foundation of this project will serve for future enhancements of the FMD and utility for forensic casework. The research team expects this will become the community resource for analysis of microbiome data and for attributing weight to microbial forensic evidence.

According to Dr. Roby, “The forensic community has not yet fully adopted nor implemented the routine use of microbiome analysis in casework. At JCVI we have extensive experience in microbiome research, including publishing the first study in 2006, and in building open source databases. Our insight will help the forensic community move this analysis to the next level. This grant and the results from it will be an important step in making microbiome data an integral part of forensic science.”

JCVI’s Global Voyage of Discovery Continues

Global Ocean Sampling Expedition Planned for 2016

Over the past 12 years, JCVI’s Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) Expedition has continued to explore all of the world’s oceans, along with major inland seas such as the Baltic and Mediterranean.  The research team maintains ongoing sampling in the waters off of California and in extreme conditions such as Antarctica and the Amazon River.  JCVI’s effort is the largest marine microbial study to date, quantifying both the taxonomic and functional diversity of microbes within these environments, and examining how both the natural environment and humans shape these communities.

Planned 2016 route for the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition

Planned 2016 route for the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition

The scientific goals and ideas on the first Sorcerer II Expedition sprung from the sequencing and analysis of Methanococcus jannaschii by Dr. Craig Venter and his research team after the organism was isolated from a hot, deep-sea vent in the Pacific.  M. jannaschii is from the Archeal branch of life and is also known as an autotroph, in that it makes all it needs for survival from carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen in water. Dr. Venter and the team continue to believe that the unknown and unseen world in the oceans is vital to understanding diversity on the planet and potentially holds the key to solving growing environmental issues.

The deck of the Sorcerer II is equipped with scientific tools including advanced water filtration and communications systems.

The deck of the Sorcerer II is equipped with scientific tools including advanced water filtration and communications systems.

Past GOS efforts have been funded by The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Beyster Family Foundation Fund, Life Technologies, and additional anonymous donors. To date, the GOS team has analyzed billions of DNA sequences and discovered over a billion new genes, 1700 unique protein families, and assembled dozens of whole genomes for uncultivated microbes.  The GOS data are freely available to the public and have resulted in follow-on research across several fields by scientists worldwide.   The GOS team utilizes a shotgun metagenomics technique to examine the presence and possible role of microbes in open ocean ecosystems.  JCVI has ongoing research internally and with international collaborators to characterize the unexplored microbiomes of marine, estuarine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments around the world.

Highlights of past and present expeditions:

  • The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was a significant funder of the first phase of the GOS Expedition from 2004-2006. To date, there are 41 publications from this phase, and an evaluation of the scientific impact of their support shows that these publications have been cited over 2700 times.
  • During the J. Robert Beyster and Life Technologies Foundation 2009-2010 Research Voyage of the Sorcerer II Expedition, aquatic samples were collected by filtration from over 300 aquatic environments in 12 nations and international waters, resulting in over 1100 possible metagenomic samples. The data generated has fostered collaborative projects between JCVI and institutions in eight nations and formed the focus of nine postdoctoral projects and five graduate student theses. The expedition extensively cataloged the microbial diversity and function of nearly all global oceans and marginal seas, and has further developed a mechanistic understanding for the distribution of microbes and function that can be applied to all aquatic environments.
  • In 2014, JCVI embarked on a sampling expedition of the Amazon River and its tributaries, which contains 1/5th of the Earth’s river flow. Long recognized for the biodiversity of visible organisms, the Amazon is understudied with regards to the diversity of microorganisms and the goal of this effort is to continue to increase our understanding of the biological diversity of Earth.
  • Since 2008, JCVI scientists have traveled to the continent of Antarctica. As one of the most untouched regions on the planet and home to the world’s largest marine ecosystem, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are invaluable to JCVI research involving climate change. Major objectives of the fieldwork are to understand how changes in micronutrient availability, temperature, and pCO2 impact growth, community composition, and nutrient utilization in Southern Ocean phytoplankton.  Recently JCVI researchers in collaboration with Scripps Institute of Oceanography uncovered a series of complicated relationships among marine microbes in their fight for important resources, like vitamin B12, that has critical consequences for coastal Southern Ocean food webs. Scientists at J. Craig Venter Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Other Collaborators, Publish Paper Outlining New View of Microbial Relationships in Southern Ocean Phytoplankton Blooms.

2016 Global Sampling Expedition Addresses Plastic Pollution & Environmental Policy

The planned 2016 GOS Expedition, led by Chris Dupont, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, combines the basic science approaches of previous expeditions with applied science. The team plans to study the wide variety of marine protected areas (MPAs) found throughout the Caribbean Sea, the Florida Straits, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Sea of Cortez. The goal is to profile the ecosystem health of the MPAs and the impact to them by fishing, pollution, habitat degradation and climate change. With dramatic differences in the levels of protection of various MPAs, JCVI researchers will assess the conservation strategy of each MPA then evaluate the outcomes of those strategies on a microbial level, with the goal of making policy recommendations for better ocean preservation.

Chris also proposes to examine the microbes found on plastic pollution in the ocean.  Plastic is the most common type of marine litter in the world, and it is wreaking untold havoc on marine ecosystems. This pollution, currently 50 million metric tons per year, has been examined by JCVI researchers and collaborators in preliminary studies, and they have found that these plastics harbor microbes that are not normally found to be abundant in the ocean. With 100 million tons of plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”—visualize Texas covered with plastic and floating in the Pacific Ocean, —there is a real and timely need to address the declining health of our oceans. Chris hopes that this research will not only further characterize what microbes are found on plastic pollution, but will also provide the genomic information necessary for building designer microorganisms for the biological degradation and recovery of plastic waste

Exploring the microbes of the oceans is even more exciting and promising than it was when JCVI launched the Sorcerer II Expedition from Halifax, Nova Scotia in August 2003. Each JCVI expedition has led to new discoveries that have deepened our understanding of the world’s waters.  What else will we discover in the coming months and years?  Whatever it may be, count on JCVI being at the forefront of the discovery.  There are many ways that you can support the next phase of discovery and help JCVI scientists find solutions to these environmental challenges.   For more information about our GOS expeditions, as well as details on partner opportunities for our 2016/2017 voyages, please contact Katie Collins,

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.

JCVI Scientist Tackles Global Sanitation Challenges

Orianna Bretschger received her B.S. in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Northern Arizona. After a five- year career in aerospace and consulting, she completed a Ph.D. in Materials Science at the University of Southern California. Eager to focus her efforts on alternative energy and sustainability, she joined the J. Craig Venter Institute in 2008. Over the course of her research tenure, Dr. Bretschger has established a productive team of researchers dedicated to understanding the fundamental mechanisms associated with extracellular electron transfer (a process that enables microbes to respire solid surfaces, i.e., “breathe rocks”) and applying that understanding to technology development for bioremediation, bioenergy, and water recycling.

Dr. Bretschger and team at White Labs with JCVI constructed reactor.

Dr. Bretschger and team at White Labs with JCVI constructed reactor.

Bretschger’s research group has secured over $11M of external funding from diverse resources including NASA, The State of California, The San Diego Foundation – Blasker Science and Technology Award, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, Synthetic Genomics Inc. and the Roddenberry Foundation. Her publications have drawn over 800 citations and most recently includes an article in Nature Communications, which describes a novel metatranscriptomic method for understanding metabolic relationships in highly diverse (over 400 species) microbial communities and new findings related to how microbes share electrons. The approach developed by her team can now be applied to many different environmental samples and begins to unravel the complex interactions that exist in our sediments, soils, oceans and fresh water resources. These studies will shed new light on how our changing environment will impact ecosystem function.

Reacter installation at San Pasqual High School

Reacter installation at San Pasqual High School

Her applied projects include the development and integration of microbial fuel cell systems that can remove contaminants from wastewater and transform the waste into direct electrical energy. Bretschger’s most recent awards include a $5M grant from the Roddenberry Foundation to demonstrate her microbial fuel cell technology as a sustainable sanitation approach to address the sanitation and related public health impacts in Latin America.  Further, a recent award from SPAWAR Pacific will test her technology at an S.E.R.E training base outside of San Diego and demonstrate its effectiveness for providing cost-effective water recycling and wastewater treatment to our militaries forward operating bases.

UABC and JCVI teams showing local elementary student how to do titrations while testing water quality in Baja MX.

UABC and JCVI teams showing local elementary student how to do titrations while testing water quality in Baja MX.

Bretschger has developed methods for how to apply her technology for the removal of medications and other toxic personal care products from wastewater; and is developing new methods for addressing the removal of nitrogen and phosphorous from agricultural waste streams (two big factors in creating ‘dead zones’ in our coastal waters).

Growing up in the Southwest, access to water has always been paramount in Bretschger’s life.  She lived through periods without access to plumbing and running water, and therefore knows first hand some of the basic challenges families face.  One third of the world’s population has no access to sanitation, resulting in high child mortality rates and a critical lack of public health and safety. Today, Bretschger directs a lab of nine researchers and five interns (high school through master’s level students) and conducts collaborative work throughout San Diego and across the International boarder. Her installations can be seen at the San Pasqual High School Agricultural center and previously at White Labs. Bretschger believes her team is poised to have a real impact on the global sanitation crisis, she just needs more funding “ to go faster and to go bigger.” Her Roddenberry funded efforts will lead to the installation of improved sanitation systems at a school in San Quintin, Mexico over the next two years, and she hopes to expand these efforts globally to begin addressing the critical sanitation needs for nearly 2.6 billion people world-wide.

Zoo in You Exhibit Now Open

Did you know trillions of microbes make their homes inside your body? In fact, these microorganisms outnumber our human cells 10 to 1, “colonize” us right from birth, and are so interwoven into our existence that without each other, none of us would survive! Thanks to new sophisticated technology and the cutting-edge research of the Human Microbiome Project, we are just starting to discover what these microbes are up to and how they affect us. And now in Zoo in You: The Human Microbiome, a new 2,000 square foot bilingual traveling exhibit created in partnership between JCVI and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), and funded by a SEPA grant from the NIH, visitors can now explore this fascinating and complex world inside us that is our microbiome—a dynamic, adaptable, and delicately balanced ecosystem like any other found in nature.

A few of the Zoo in You components including “Weather Reports” and “Microbes in the Family”

A few of the Zoo in You components including “Weather Reports” and “Microbes in the Family”

The exhibition features 15 interactive, free floating hands on components that are designed to focus on three overarching topic areas to educate and inform visitors on the concept that our bodies are complex ecosystems that we are just starting to understand and explore.  Through these exhibit components museum goers will “meet the microbes” to learn about the organisms which live on and inside us from the moment we are born, to understanding the importance of the dynamic and delicately balanced human microbiome in “balanced ecosystems”, and lastly visitors will “explore the microbiome” to learn the importance of scientific research to increase our understanding of human health.

Zoo In You introduction component “Meet the Microbes”

Zoo In You introduction component “Meet the Microbes”

There are numerous interactive, hands on activities for visitors.  Such activities include “Weather Reports” where guests will have the opportunity to interact with green screen technology to give a weather report on the climate conditions of your nose, gut or skin.  They also will be able to build a DNA Puzzle where they race against the clock to assemble a DNA strand and participate in a hand washing contest.   Participants can challenge each other in exhibit components such as “Microbes in Balance”, a large touch screen video game to see if they can keep their “health-o-meter” in balance and in “Microbe Mirror” a motion sensing activity where visitors come face to face with their full body reflection and control the changes in their microbiome as they react to everyday occurrences.  Throughout the exhibit components feature contributions by JCVI Scientists Dr. Karen E. Nelson, Dr. Hernan A. Lorenzi, and Dr. Ramana Madupu including “Stories & Choices” an activity where visitors listen to the scientist interviews and make choices based on various fun questions which relate to microbiome research.

The Zoo in You exhibit is now on display at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, OR through July 2015, it will then travel to Science Works Hands-On Museum in Ashland, OR October through December 2015.  It will begin its national tour at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, CA in partnership with JCVI.

Science on the Sea Ice Edge

On Sunday, December 14th JCVI scientists Andy Allen, Erin Bertrand, and Jeff Hoffman flew to New Zealand to begin the arduous journey to the sea ice edge of Antarctica.  The JCVI team was joined by three members of the University of Southern California, led by David Hutchins, and three members of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), led by Deborah Bronk.  This is the second field season of the second three-year NSF funded collaborative project for the Allen team.  The first field season for the current project was in December 2012/January 2013; the second year was postponed due to the government shutdown in late 2013 delaying our trip until December 2014.  The major objectives of this collective fieldwork are to understand how changes in micronutrient availability, temperature, and pCO2 will impact growth, community composition, and nutrient utilization in Southern Ocean phytoplankton.


JCVI Antarctic Expedition
JCVI Antarctic ExpeditionPictures from Antarctic Expedition

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean remain one of the most untouched regions on the planet making this area extremely valuable for research related to the impacts of climate change on biota. The Southern Ocean is a system of currents linking all of the Earth’s ocean.  It is the most prolific of our oceans, and by conducting genome-enabled investigations targeting phytoplankton, plant like organisms consisting mostly of algae and bacteria that are the base of oceanic food webs, JCVI scientists glean insight into key biological underpinnings.  A key research challenge is identification of basic characteristics, features and genomic fingerprints that are sensitive to environmental shifts that impact surface waters and result in   nutrient cascading effects.  JCVI scientists are establishing valuable baselines to identify impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems.  This research is used in turn to create models of ocean circulation and phytoplankton distribution patterns that will help scientists, policy makers and politicians identify and address the worldwide effects of climate change.

This research can be especially challenging because of the geographic isolation of the Southern Ocean.  Upon arrival in New Zealand, the JCVI team spends a day securing extreme cold weather gear and viewing safety videos.  We then wait patiently to depart on a military plane: LC-130 Hercules.  While the LC-130 is known for its reliability to reach austere locations, the flight is often at the mercy of mechanical failure and weather changes.  After a nine hour, extremely loud and rumbling flight, the team disembarks onto a sheet of ice.  Despite this being a repeat trip for many of us, it is still amazing to find yourself traversing a remote sheet of ice.  From here, we board the transport vehicle Ivan the Terra Bus for the 45-minute ride to McMurdo Station on Ross Island.

Orientation to station life can be challenging. There are acronyms for everything.  Despite the presence of approximately 1000 residents, one is aware of the lack of “home like” sounds from pets and children, and the feelings of isolation are real and enduring.  Interestingly less than 10% of the Station population is scientists.  We work with military and station support staff daily, and despite the isolation, a sense of camaraderie and a bond based on shared experience develops immediately.  Another note of interest is that the weather at times is not that bad at McMurdo despite what you may have seen in the movies.  In fact, our friends and family in Boston had it much worse!

After arriving at McMurdo, the team spent 9 days completing required safety training, securing logistical support and preparing the lab.  Our research activities consisted of weekly helicopter expeditions to the sea ice edge where large volumes of water were filtered for analyses of DNA, RNA and proteins.  Live phytoplankton samples were also collected in a manner specifically designed to prevent contamination by iron and other trace metals. There are inherent dangers traveling to the sea ice edge.  In the company of penguins and whales, the team must be aware of potential ice shifts, developing cracks and breakouts.  We travel with a mountaineer who works to maintain our safety.  When working close to the ice edge, we are each secured via ropes and pulleys—it can be intense.  We also have to watch the weather.  Many times in order to keep samples from freezing, you could see us breaking out the hairdryers and camping stoves.  Whatever it takes!

Our “live water” samples were transported back to the laboratory at McMurdo and used to conduct various manipulative experiments aimed at investigating the synergistic impact of change in Iron (Fe) and Vitamin B12 availability as well as increases in temperature and pCO2 levels.  One of the major challenges the team faced was keeping these experiments free of dust in order to avoid iron contamination.  This was a particular challenge because McMurdo Station is built on a pile of extremely dry, dusty, volcanic soil.  The team persevered, of course, and completed numerous trace metal clean experiments.

To date, these manipulative experiments have yielded preliminary results suggesting that changing micronutrient availability and increasing temperature will have major impacts on the base of the Antarctic food web.  These include changes in mutualistic relationships between phytoplankton and bacteria and changes in the rate of consumption in major nutrients, both of which are likely to have important downstream effects throughout the global ocean. Analyses of gene and protein expression changes in the field and in these experiments are just beginning to yield further insight into how the Southern Ocean will respond to a changing earth.

On January 27th, exhausted, but with a very successful expedition completed, the team returned to New Zealand.  It is challenging to be away from your friends and family for 2 months at time.  As we return to the real world though, we arrive feeling lucky and privileged.  JCVI scientists see a region of the world and experience amazing days of wildlife that few people will ever know first-hand.  Studying phytoplankton and ocean ecosystems is in fact a privilege and the research JCVI scientists and other teams are doing in Antarctica will have a lasting impact on the future of our planet.

2015 Advanced Genomics, Metagenomics, and Bioinformatics Workshop Wrap-up

I was lucky enough to help set up and plan a workshop covering genomics, metagenomics, proteomics and bioinformatics at the University of the West Indies campus in St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago on February 19th and 20th. The workshop was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases through the Genomic Center for Infectious Diseases cooperative agreement. UWI was a co-sponsor and a gracious host. Participants included 60 individuals from Trinidad, England, Guyana and Barbados. On-line participants were from all over the world including Gambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, USA, and the Caribbean.

file-pdf Workshop Slides (PDF – 29MB)

The team of presenters from the JCVI included Karen Nelson, Bill Nierman, Andrey Tovchigrechko, Rembert Pieper, and Shibu Yooseph.  Presenters from UWI included Drs. Christine Carrington and Adesh Ramsubhag.

Karen opened the workshop with a welcome message and overview. She has been a driving force behind the growing relationship between UWI and JCVI. Bill delivered very interesting talks on the history of research on the human microbiome and currently emerging infectious diseases. Rembert handled a presentation and tutorial on proteomic analysis strategies, which was a big hit. If time was not a factor, the question and answer period could have lasted longer than his talk. Finally, Andrey and Shibu presented and gave lessons on statistics, UNIX, and bioinformatics analyses for genomics, metagenomics, and microbiome work.

Dr. Carrington’s presentation on infectious diseases in Trinidad focused on Dengue Fever and Chickungunya, and dovetailed quite nicely with Bill’s presentation on emerging infectious diseases.

Dr. Ramsubhag described the results of his work examining the bacterial diversity of the Nariva Swamp in Trinidad, which uncovered many unique bacterial strains. Perhaps the most important portion of his talk described how important this type of workshop/collaboration is for UWI. Lessons from subject matter experts are invaluable to the undergraduate, graduate and faculty members that attended the workshop as students. In addition, Dr. Ramsuhbag described how a relationship that started through a workshop has given UWI access to cutting edge technologies and data analysis strategies that would be otherwise unavailable without the collaboration with the JCVI.

The students that attended the workshop were all very enthusiastic and eager to learn. They seemingly hung on every word from the presenters, and paid very close attention during the presentations and hands on informatics sessions. A few attendees even asked us to make the lunch break shorter so that the workshop time could be lengthened…but we needed that time to break down the video equipment, haul it to another building and set it up for the afternoon classes. It was a pleasure to help make this learning experience possible for the workshop students!

The workshop was the second time that staff from the JCVI have presented at the St. Augustine Campus of UWI. Tim Stockwell held an 8 hour workshop focused on viruses in 2013.  We look forward to working together in the future.

Special thanks to Tim Stayeas for handling all of the technology associated with on-line broadcasts of the meeting.

Watch all four training sessions below:

Day 1, AM Session

Day 1, PM Session

Day 2, AM Session

Day 2, PM Session

International Bioinformatics Workshop

20th International Bioinformatics Workshop on Virus Evolution & Molecular Epidemiology (VEME) on behalf of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology

The International Bioinformatics Workshop on VEME workshop is recognized as one of the best virus bioinformatics courses in the world and has so far been organized in Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Greece, Portugal, the USA, South Africa, The Netherlands, Serbia and Italy. The 20th edition will be held 9 – 14 August 2015 at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago. The workshop is co-organized by the UWI, J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and the University of Leuven.

The workshop will provide intensive training in the mathematical principles and computer applications used in the study virus evolution and for conducting detailed molecular epidemiological investigations. The workshop will include lectures and computer practical session where students will have the opportunity to analyze their own research data. Teachers will include 24 world-renowned researchers (including Richard Scheuermann, Tim Stockwell and Karen E. Nelson from JCVI).

Note: the application deadline has been extended to March 29, 2015.

Detailed information and online applications may be accessed at:


Guest Speakers Marlo Gottfurcht Longstreet and Dean Ornish Inspire Guests at JCVI‘s “Life at the Speed of Light” Gala

On October 18, J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) hosted our “Life at the Speed of Light” black tie gala featuring special guests Dean Ornish, MD, and Marlo Gottfurcht Longstreet. JCVI welcomed 200 community leaders, sponsors and supporters including Representative Scott Peters, Susan Taylor, Reena Horowitz, Linda Chester, Jack McGrory, Jessie Knight, Jr., Joye Blount, Wendy Walker, Randy Woods, Andrew and Erna Viterbi, Mary Ann Beyster, and JCVI Board Member Bill Walton and wife Lori.

Guests experienced our science first hand through various displays and had the opportunity to interact with many JCVI scientists to learn how advances in genomics are impacting our health and environment.

microbiome station

JCVI Scientists Manny Torralba and Stephanie Mounaud welcomed guests with a brief introduction to the palm microbiome by taking swabs and sharing aggregate population results midevening.

Following welcome remarks by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Founder & CEO of JCVI, Marlo Gottfurcht Longstreet shared her son Tanner’s battle with a Giloblastoma Brain Tumor. It is understood that the tumor developed as a result of a mutation in the TP53 tumor suppressor gene. Sadly, Tanner Jay Longstreet passed away in 2013 at the age of 11.

Marlo Gottfurcht Longstreet sharing her personal story about her son Tanner and ongoing work at the Tanner Project.

Marlo Gottfurcht Longstreet sharing her personal story about her son Tanner and ongoing work at the Tanner Project.

Personal tragedy turned mission for Marlo as she set out to do everything she could to better understand what afflicted Tanner, which gave rise to the Tanner Project at JCVI. Led by Nicholas Schork, Ph.D., the Tanner Project is what is referred to as an “N of 1” project – a single patient case study. Rather than go in for yearly checkups, the patient in the study is monitored daily so that any evidence of cancer can be detected at onset. The goal is to keep the study patient at what is referred to as stage 0. By closely monitoring the condition in this “N of 1” study, its application can be applied more broadly in personalized medicine – “N of 1 for everyone.”

Dr. Ornish discussed advances in personalized medicine and how simple behavioral changes can greatly affect patient outcomes. He addressed ideas presented in his most recent book, The Spectrum, suggesting diet and exercise are not all or nothing propositions. If today wasn’t a great food day, there is no reason tomorrow can’t be. This kind of thinking can greatly improve longevity and quality of life.

Dean Ornish speaking to gala attendees on advances in medicine.

Nobel Laureate Hamilton Smith (right) walks gala attendees through JCVI advances.

Rangers and the Re-Arrangers

The evening was rounded out with a delectable dinner, dancing, and gypsy jazz music by Seattle’s Rangers and the Re-Arrangers.

JCVI is grateful to its event sponsors – CapitalOne Bank, BioMed Realty, Synthetic Genomics, Inc., Human Longevity, Inc., Thermo Fisher Scientific, Gunderson Dettmer, ZGF, and Egon Zehnder – for their support. Thank you as well to our DNA gift bag sponsors: Way Better Snacks, GoodBelly, Kowalski Communications, La Jolla Playhouse, Lean & Green Café, and Travel Set Go.

JCVI remains committed to tackling today’s pressing medical and environmental concerns, and we continue to rely on your generosity to achieve our goals. For more information on funding needs and opportunities, please contact Katie Collins as

JCVI Scientists Join NASA-Funded Astrobiology Research Teams

Scientists from J. Craig Venter Institute are part of teams awarded grants from NASA to “study the origins, evolution, distribution, and future life in the universe.” Dr. Christopher Dupont is part of a team led by the University of California, Riverside and will study chemical energy stored in rocks as a potential power source, while Dr. Shino Ishii will work with a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory looking at the habitability of extraterrestrial icy worlds.

Artist concept of an early Earth

Artist concept of an early Earth. Image Credit: NASA

From NASA’s Press Release:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Team lead is Isik Kanik. Research will conduct laboratory experiments and field research in environments on Earth, such as The Cedars in Northern California, to understand the habitability of extraterrestrial icy worlds such as Europa, Ganymede and Enceladus.

University of California, Riverside. Team lead is Timothy Lyons. Research will examine the history of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and ocean between 3.2 and 0.7 billion years ago. This is a time range in which the amount of oxygen present is thought to have increased from almost nothing to the amounts present today. This work will address the question of how Earth has remained persistently inhabited through most of its dynamic history and would provide NASA exploration scientists a template to investigate the presence of habitable conditions on Mars and other planetary bodies.

See the complete release.