Meet Dr. Jay Shendure, a Seattle-based scientist and University of Washington professor. His team at the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine showed that it’s possible to sequence the complete genome of a fetus from samples obtained noninvasively from the parents.
What do you do? I’m the scientific director for the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine — a collaboration between UW Medicine, Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s. I’m also a professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
I’m a scientist. I develop technologies that help us understand the human genome, and, in particular, how genetic differences between us might contribute to our risk of both rare and common diseases. Other projects that my research lab or the BBI are heavily involved in include mapping all of the cell types in the human body; understanding how every possible change in a cancer gene like BRCA1 can affect a woman’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer; and trying to map the transmission of flu through the city of Seattle during the course of an actual flu season.
What drew you to your specialty? In college I was actually on track to be a cultural anthropologist. I took a class in genetics my sophomore year that blew my mind. The professor let me work in their lab the following summer, and after that I was hooked on research. I used to program computers a lot as a kid and at the time that I started doing research, the interface of computation and biology was just emerging. That moment set me on a trajectory that I’ve pretty much stayed on for two decades.
What’s a typical day like? I get up at 4 a.m. and get a little work done. I get the kids up, get them breakfast, take them to school. I’m at work by 9 a.m. Every day is completely different. It’s a mix of chatting with students, meetings, looking at data, reading, writing, going to talks. I’m always home by 6 for dinner and in bed by 10.
What surprises people about what you do? This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but I think sometimes people think all the ideas come from me. Running a lab is more like being a coach or a cheerleader. If you don’t have a really good team, you won’t go anywhere. I’ve been super blessed to have an incredible team of people working with me. I’m shepherding and trying to point the ship in the right direction, but the actual hard work and the great ideas mostly come from the trainees and staff.
What’s the best part of the job? The freedom of having an academic job is really nice. I don’t really have a boss. You have complete control over your schedule. You can wear whatever you want to work, you can go on a run when you want to. And you have complete control over the science that you want to do.