March 2023

Genome Pioneer Claire Fraser, PhD, Stepping Down

March 3, 2023    |  

Claire Fraser, PhD, a pioneer and global leader in genomic research, will step down from her position as director of the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS) in the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) effective immediately. She will continue as the Dean E. Albert Reece Endowed Professor and professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology at UMSOM and scientist at IGS through the end of 2024, at which time she will retire.

Jacques Ravel, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at UMSOM, will continue in his interim role as acting director of IGS.

Dr. Fraser founded IGS in 2007 when she brought 60 researchers and staff with her from The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md., at the invitation of Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA. IGS celebrated its 15th anniversary of groundbreaking genomic and microbiome research at UMSOM last October.

Dr. Fraser made scientific history at TIGR by pioneering high-throughput DNA sequencing for human gene discovery, and in 1992 published the first complete genome sequence of Haemophilus influenza, a bacterial pathogen that causes ear infections and meningitis in young children. This accomplishment demonstrated the power of shotgun sequencing and assembly for whole genome analysis and launched the field of microbial genomics. Scientists today have access to more than half a million prokaryotic genome sequences in public databases because of this groundbreaking study.

TIGR researchers, led by Dr. Fraser, achieved many firsts in the history of genomics: the first archaeal genome sequence; the first plant genome sequence; the first parasite genome; and the first insect genome. They also contributed to the first draft of the human genome released in 2001 — along with contributions from the National Human Genome Research Institute. In 2001, Dr. Fraser and colleagues helped U.S. law enforcement identify the source of the deadly anthrax attack.

At IGS, Dr. Fraser led a team that has grown to more than 100 faculty, staff, and students. She has continued her research in the role of the microbiome in health and disease, publishing recently on how a mother’s HIV status, breastfeeding, and the infant microbiome impacts the health of newborns.

“The field of genomics would not be as advanced as it is today without Dr. Fraser’s groundbreaking research in sequencing and microbial genomics,” said Mark Gladwin, MD, dean, UMSOM, vice president for medical affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor. “We will greatly miss her leadership not only at IGS, but in all she has done for the University of Maryland School of Medicine, as well."

Dr. Fraser served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2020 and as chair of the organization’s Board of Directors in 2021. She has published more than 320 scientific articles, edited three books, and served on committees of the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and National Institutes of Health. She received her PhD in Pharmacology from the State University of New York-Buffalo.

In retirement, she plans to continue her advocacy work for women in STEM fields, K-12 science education, climate change, and health equity.

For a deeper dive into Dr. Fraser’s career, watch this video from the IGS 15th Anniversary Celebration.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest-growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world — with 46 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs, and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1.3 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic, and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has nearly $600 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 students, trainees, residents, and fellows. The combined School of Medicine and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has an annual budget of over $6 billion and an economic impact of nearly $20 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity (according to the Association of American Medical Colleges profile) is an innovator in translational medicine, with 606 active patents and 52 start-up companies. In the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of the Best Medical Schools, published in 2021, the UM School of Medicine is ranked No. 9 among the 92 public medical schools in the United States and in the top 15 percent (No. 27) of all 192 public and private U.S. medical schools. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world.


About the Institute for Genome Sciences

The Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has revolutionized genomic discoveries in medicine, agriculture, environmental science, and biodefense since its founding in 2007. IGS investigators research areas of genomics and the microbiome to better understand health and disease, including treatments, cures, and prevention. IGS investigators also lead the development of the new field of microbial forensics. IGS is a leading center for major biological initiatives currently underway including the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project (HMP) and the NIAID-sponsored Genomic Sequencing Center for Infectious Diseases (GSCID). Follow us on Twitter @GenomeScience.