CSUMB awarded $1.54 million grant to help diversify the field of genomics

Nathaniel Jue

Nathaniel Jue, associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, with a research associate.

September 26, 2022

By Marielle Argueza

Select CSU Monterey Bay students may get their chance to work with some of the leading scientists in genomics thanks to a brand new grant aimed at diversifying the ground-breaking and growing field. 

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), as a part of the National Institutes of Health, has officially announced the awardees of a first-of-its-kind grant. Called the Genome Research Experiences to Attract Talented Undergraduates into the Genomics Field to Enhance Diversity program, or GREAT, the grant will launch with $3.65 million of funding split between two minority-serving institutions. 

CSUMB will receive $1.54 million in funding to partner and develop and implement a mentorship program with neighboring institution UC Santa Cruz. The UC campus houses UCSC Genomics Institute, which helped spark the revolutionary Human Genome Project in 1985 and helped complete it in 2000. 

The other $1.75 million was awarded to the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, in order to partner with various genomic research institutions housed within several universities nationwide. Both universities were singled out by the NHGRI for their “rigorous approaches to training and mentoring students” and “strong collaborations with partner institutions.”

“We hope that the GREAT program will help the collaborating institutions learn from each other in a way that builds lasting partnerships,” said Lucia Hindorff, NHGRI’s lead extramural training program director within the Training, Diversity and Health Equity Office. “The students will also benefit from the strong network they will build at both places.”

The idea behind the grant is to create a pipeline of well-trained and experienced undergraduate researchers by providing them with the opportunities to be trained by some of the leading authorities in the field of genomics, and thereby creating a pool of highly-qualified future employees in the field.

“In the sciences, you have a lot of people coming from big institutions like Ivy League schools and other research institutions,” said CSUMB Associate Professor Nathaniel Jue, who specializes in genomics, genetics and bioinformatics. “But we want to show our students are just as competitive. This is an opportunity to help them demonstrate that.”

Jue goes on to explain that genomics is applicable to all professional fields of the sciences be it in the lab through biomedical technology, in the field in conservation biology, or through policy in public health. 

“Basically, there is no field in biology that doesn’t apply genomics. We use sequencing in all walks of life these days,” he said. “It’s the reason we can develop conservation policy in regards to rare species. And why we could respond so quickly to outbreaks of disease like coronavirus.” 

The grant will fund a training and mentorship program between CSUMB and UC Santa Cruz for a period of five years with $1.6 million dollars. The money will go toward stipends, travel, professional development and some tuition. The partnership will provide funding both through the academic year and over the summer, and move through two cohorts of CSUMB students. Each cohort will have six students (a total of 12 students through the entirety of the program), with the first iteration eventually acting as an additional mentorship support for the second cohort. 

According to Jue, they are looking to fund students who are traditionally underrepresented in the field of science, which include people of color, students from low-income backgrounds, or students with disabilities. Recruiting will be aimed at undergraduate upperclassmen and principally promoted through Professor Judith Canner from the Math and Statistics Department, Jue’s own department of Biology and Chemistry, and Associate Professor Shahidul Islam from the School of Computing and Design. 

Islam and Jue are the principal investigators of the project. Jue gives a special thanks to UC Santa Cruz, who have been “incredibly generous collaborators,” and CSUMB’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Center (UROC) for their support. 

The NIH is the nation's medical research agency and includes 27 institutes and centers including the NHGRI, which develops and implements technology to understand, diagnose and treat genomic and genetic diseases.