University of Maryland School of Medicine genomist Claire Fraser-Liggett, PhD, is dedicated to deciphering the genome and its secrets for "every species of life," she said at a special forum of pioneering women in biotechnology at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual conference June 28 in Washington, D.C.
Then, Fraser-Liggett, the director of the University of Maryland's Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS), shifted gears when the moderator, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, asked her, "What's left to do?"
She responded, "I want to work as hard as I can as a mentor. Especially for the young women who are entering science." Now that the percentage of government grant awards has fallen below 10 percent of applications for those grants, she said, "I can provide the incentive, the push to go beyond the comfort zone for getting those young people a start; that's what I like to do."
Fraser-Liggett has been at the center of the genomic revolution from the beginning, as a National Institutes of Health researcher, as co-founder and president of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md. in the 1990s, and in 2008 by establishing the IGS at the University of Maryland.
She said her passion for science began as a freshman in high school when her class dissected a frog, a standard grade school lesson at the time. Since then, "I have been fortunate to be there from the beginning," she said, adding that Maryland has had a central role in the human genome mapping. "Now, I think we are on the cusp of personalized medicine."
Because of the revolution in genomic data in the past decade, Fraser-Liggett said, science has brought together scientific disciplines that previously "never talk[ed] with each other." She said, "Now we bring them together for projects that are too big for anyone to do alone. It is a very exciting era."
Debra Bowes, president of the nonprofit Women in Bio, also on the panel, added that genome sciences have allowed more development of drugs for rare diseases and made them more amenable to marketing by pharmaceutical firms. ý
Members of the IGS team have helped revolutionize genomic discoveries in medicine, agriculture, environmental science, and biodefense. Encouraged to do so by their director, IGS researchers regularly host grade school classes for tours and hands-on demonstrations in molecular biology in their laboratories at the University of Maryland BioPark. Said Fraser-Liggett, "I have opportunities to see many bright students in high schools and colleges."
O'Malley said Maryland has the eighth highest percentage of women-owned firms in professional, science, and technical services among the states. He also said Maryland is the leading state for women-owned businesses.