In July 2015, our laboratory will move to Harvard University. I’ve accepted an offer to join Harvard’s faculty in two departments: Molecular & Cellular Biology (in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences), and Applied Mathematics (in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences). The laboratory will be on the first floor of the venerable, historic Biolabs building on the Cambridge campus. Much like we optimized our Janelia location to be the closest lab to the pub, now we will be strategically located closest to the food truck on Divinity Avenue. I’m told that our future space was once occupied by Eric Lander, so who knows what we’re going to find during construction. Charred effigies of Craig Venter, I trust.

We will have been at Janelia Farm for nine years, and it will be bittersweet to leave. The small hands-on labs at Janelia allowed us to work intensely on some showstopping issues in HMMER and Infernal that I don’t think we would have tried to tackle at a university.  At the same time, I was also able to absorb neuroscience from my environment, kibitzing over the shoulders of my terrific colleagues here, struggling toward some vague dream of understanding how relatively small digital genomes manage to express such amazing biological complexity in the world, including neural circuits and innate behaviors. But we did take a hit being here. It’s tough to do computational genomics in a relatively isolated place that’s pretty much all about systems neuroscience. Great for me; but not so ideal, I fear, for the people who came to work in our small, sub-critical-mass laboratory. It’s time to emerge from splendid isolation, rejoin the genomics world, and do more than have my head down in my code.

At Harvard, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, we’ll be working on three areas. We will keep pushing the resolution and accuracy of remote homology search methods, such as HMMER and Infernal, for comparative genome analysis. We have a solid long-term roadmap in mind for that technology, both in theory and engineering. We will re-engage our work in RNA structure and function, something we haven’t been able to do enough of in the small Janelia lab; we’re going to wade into the lncRNA controversies and see if we can figure out what the hell is going on.  And as part of Harvard’s Center for Brain Science, we’re going to continue our new work in neuroscience too (well, genomics of neurons, really), in collaboration with Lee Henry, Fred Davis, and Janelia’s NeuroSeq project team, trying to understand how neural cell types are genomically specified in development — really, just trying to figure out even what are the right questions to ask, to understand any sort of biological complexity.

(Did Pandora go full skynet? It gave me the Hans Zimmer soundtrack for Batman Begins as I was writing that, which I have to say is pretty damned epic for writing paragraphs about future plans.)

It takes a long lead time to reboot a laboratory in a new home. We’re starting to think about the design and construction of the new space. Meanwhile, if you’re a prospective PhD student, postdoc, or senior scientist and you’re interested in being part of the sort of computational genomics research we do, get in touch. We’ll likely open the new Harvard lab in September or so next year, assuming construction goes well. As many people are fond of taunting me for the past many years, Boston is supposed to be a pretty good place to do science. (Even so, I’m going to miss Janelia. And I’m not going to root for the Red Sox either, @mbeisen.)

One thought on “Reboot

  1. Wow, congratulations, Sean! (I just saw this). And I can’t believe the food truck is in that same spot after all these years! Good luck.


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