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Straight talk with… Stephen O’Brien

Straight talk with…Stephen O’Brien
by Elie Dolgin
Nature Medicine 19, 9 (2013) doi:10.1038/nm0113-9
Published online 07 January 2013

Stephen O’Brien joined the US National Cancer Institute as a post doc in 1971 and climbed the ranks to become head of the institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, a position he held for 25 years. But, after four decades at the government agency, O’Brien was ready for something new. In December 2011, he stepped down and took up a three-year, $5 million ‘megagrant’ in Russia through a program started a year earlier by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science to attract big-name researchers to work at least part-time in that country. O’Brien used his money to help launch the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics at Saint Petersburg State University.

Although O’Brien is a cancer researcher, he has diverse scientific interests. He led the team that discovered the CCR5-Δ32 mutation that confers resistance to HIV, and he has helped document the remarkable genetic uniformity of African cheetahs. Recently, he and two California scientists started the Genome 10K project, which aims to sequence the genetic blueprints of 10,000 vertebrate species. On a trip back to the US, O’Brien spoke with Elie Dolgin about how comparative genomics and his new Russian center will help advance the search for new therapeutics.