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Salk recruits human geneticist Graham McVicker

Expanding on its leadership in genetics, the Salk Institute is pleased to announce the appointment of Graham McVicker as an assistant professor in the Integrative Biology Laboratory and in the Laboratory of Genetics.

Graham McVicker

“Graham is a forward-thinking researcher with an impressive background in developing and harnessing innovative techniques to help unravel the human genome,” says Rusty Gage, professor in the Laboratory of Genetics. “Understanding and analyzing human genetic diversity is crucial to both science and medicine, and Graham’s breadth of expertise in computing and genetics will spur important innovations in these areas.”

McVicker will join the Salk Institute in January 2016. He seeks to understand how human genetic variation affects molecular processes in the cell and contributes to disease.

Geneticists have cataloged millions of genetic differences between individuals, but it is difficult to determine which of them affect human traits such as height, blood pressure and disease risk. McVicker has begun to tackle this problem by developing powerful statistical and computational approaches to analyze the human genome and determine the molecular function of individual genetic variants.

McVicker is particularly interested in genetic variants that affect chromatin. Chromatin is the molecular packaging that organizes DNA and regulates access to the genome, which helps control which genes are turned on in specific cells. Genetic variants that affect chromatin are likely to be important for many human diseases and the McVicker laboratory will focus specifically on those that affect chromatin in immune cells. By understanding these variants and linking them to disease risk, his laboratory will illuminate why some individuals are more susceptible to autoimmune and infectious diseases.

“I plan to push the boundaries of quantitative genetics and use genetic variation as a tool to understand the molecular processes that underlie human disease,” says McVicker. “I am excited to join the world-renowned faculty at the Salk Institute, where I will have the intellectual freedom, resources and collaborations to make important contributions in these areas.”

McVicker earned his BS from the University of British Columbia in computer science and PhD from the University of Washington in genome sciences, where he studied how selection and mutation shape genetic variation in primate evolution. More recently, he conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago, Stanford University and the Dana- Farber Cancer Institute, where he developed new methods for genetic mapping of molecular quantitative traits.