Claire Fraser: President, Institute for Genomic Research

Article excerpt

Byline: Adam Rogers

Three black standard poodles politely greet visitors to the office of Claire Fraser, president of The Institute for Genomic Research. TIGR, as it's called, developed an innovative way to sequence genes, and even the dogs aren't immune--one of them, Shadow, has had his X chromosome sequenced. But big animals are not Fraser's specialty. Before she took over as head of TIGR in 1998, she worked on microbes, tiny critters such as bacteria. For a while she studied the biological underpinnings of addiction. "But if I had a choice to go back and do research, I'd probably put aside the microbial stuff and work on dogs," she says. "I would have been a vet if I hadn't been allergic to every animal as a kid."

Veterinary medicine's loss is genetics' gain. The not-for-profit TIGR is one of the world's pre-eminent decoders of microbial and plant genomes. It published the first one in 1995, a zillion years ago in genetics time. The human genome is largely complete, and genetics is now as much about databases as biochemistry. So Fraser is pointing TIGR's expertise in new directions, from medicine to bioweapons research. Mapping the human genome, she says, was merely a race to the starting line.

TIGR started with an argument. Fraser's husband, Craig Venter, believed he had a faster method of sequencing the human genome. The National Institutes of Health, where he worked, disagreed. So Venter split. Fraser, working at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, was having her own job angst and went with him. In 1992 they took over a warehouse in Maryland's biotech corridor and became TIGR. Their "shotgun" technique, blowing a genome apart and reassembling it with computers, was a success. In three years they finished the genome of the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae. …