ISU student works with genome project

Carrie Kreisler

An ISU senior spent his summer helping to make history and solve the ongoing mystery surrounding human DNA. Brad Griffin, senior in industrial technology, was an intern this summer at the Genome Sequencing Center in St. Louis, Mo. The center at the Washington University School of Medicine is one of 16 centers nationwide working to map and sequence the approximately 100,000 genes in human DNA. The human genome, made of DNA and proteins, is the complete set of instructions for making an organism. It contains the blueprint for all cellular structures and activities for the lifetime of a cell or organism. Once the map and sequences of the human genome are completed, they can be used to improve early detection and treatment of disease. “This is one of the biggest projects of the 20th century, and I helped,” he said. “It’s huge. They say it is like the blueprint of a house; they have the framework and they just have to fill in the gaps,” Griffin said. Griffin landed the three-month internship after his sister, who has worked at the center for over a year, told him of an available position. “She said there was an opening and I could have it if I wanted it,” he said. Griffin worked as an instrumentation technician, repairing and monitoring the computers at each machine used in the project. “I had nothing to do with the actual biology of it,” Griffin said. “I just fixed the machines they used.” For the research to progress smoothly, the machines had to be maintained and kept in working order. “Our No. 1 function is the management of about 150 DNA sequencing machines,” said William Fronick, instrumentation supervisor for the center. The machines are used to load images of DNA samples onto computer screens, he said. “Machine downtime is a huge problem,” Fronick said. “Our goal is to cut this time down as much as we can.” When Fronick would get e-mail with problem reports, he would send Griffin to evaluate the situation. Depending on the problem, it was his job to either “make a repair or recommend outside service,” Fronick said. Griffin also assisted the engineers in testing new lab equipment, Fronick said. “Brad also spent time with our engineers on a couple of modification projects, which made existing equipment more suited to our production needs,” he said. Griffin did a lot of work with the diagnostics and calibrations for the project. He also helped create a database of the center’s instruments. “There was a database at each terminal to provide real-time access to conditions and error reports for each machine,” Griffin said. The senior said he knew nothing about the Human Genome Project before he began his internship. “It isn’t in my field at all,” Griffin said, “but it’s really interesting.” Although Griffin said he doesn’t know when the Human Genome Project will actually be completed, Fronick said, “our center has led the way in the construction of the map.” Griffin said he will go back and work for the center in December and then again after he graduates in the spring. “I plan to work there until I find a job in my own field,” he said. “They liked what I did, and they can definitely use me. Everyone was really friendly and helpful. It was a great place to work.”