Get to know: Babs Pusey

Barbara Pusey, known affectionately as Babs, is a Huntsville native who was thrilled that HudsonAlpha was built while she was earning her biotech-related degrees. Pusey joined the Myers lab at HudsonAlpha in 2008, not long after the institute opened its doors.

Q: What was your path to HudsonAlpha?  
I came to HudsonAlpha fresh out of grad school nearly five years ago.  The institute was just opening and it seemed like divine providence that there were now jobs not just in my home state, but in my home town!  When I visited the institute for my interview I felt the energy, and enthusiasm that seemed ingrained in every fiber of this building and its people.

But it was the education department, not the lab, that cinched the deal for me. I loved that I could work in a place that wasn’t just changing the future of my field but the futures of kids across Alabama and the world. Every hour of every day somewhere in this state a student is benefiting from the hard work and dedication of our educational outreach team.  If you haven’t spent time getting to know them, you should take an hour out of your day to do so because I believe they are the epitome of rock star scientists.

Q: What is your role in the lab?
I am a computational biologist with the software development team so I am not tied to any one project but provide computational support for a lot of projects. If your data goes through the next-generation sequencers, it will likely have been processed by a code our team has written.  Recently, the two projects I’ve been spending a fair share of time on are ENCODE and CSER.  

In 2003, the National Human Genome Research Institute launched a public research consortium named ENCODE, the Encyclopedia ODNA Elements. Broadly stated, the goal of ENCODE is to identify all functional elements in the human genome sequence.  The Myers lab has always been a central part of the ENCODE project.  My part of the ENCODE project revolves around analysis and serving up the massive amounts of data we collect to scientists around the world.

This year, we have started the Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research project. CSER supports multi-disciplinary projects that bring together clinicians, bioinformaticians and ethicists to research the challenges of utilizing genomic sequence data in the clinic in the routine practice of medicine. Here at HudsonAlpha, we will be using high throughput genomic sequencing to meet major diagnostic needs for childhood genetic disorders. The study centers around families, who after spending time and money seeing different physicians, are left with no clear explanation as to the disorder affecting their child.  The goal is to find the genetic link that can explain the disorder, hopefully leading to an effective treatment  plan for the child, or to connect the family to others facing similar circumstances.  At present the software team is helping to develop a web interface and database which allows the clinicians to provide sample information to HudsonAlpha.  

Q: Why is this research important to you?
In 2001, the Human Genome Project gave us our first successful sequencing of our genome.  Those As, Gs, Cs, and Ts contained the full instructions for making one of us, but they were not a simple blueprint or recipe book. The genome was there, but we had little idea about how it was used, controlled or organized. They answered the question, “What is our genetic code?”  Now, we are left asking “What does it do?” The future of medicine is in answering that question.  I like to tell people that my world revolves around understanding and manipulating four letters.  One project at a time we push our understanding of ourselves just a little bit further.

Q: What is your educational background?
I did my undergrad at Birmingham Southern and was the first to graduate with a double major in computer science and dance performance. (I am still trying to find a way to incorporate the latter into genomics.) I went on to Dr. Webb Miller’s lab at Penn State, where I earned a master’s in computer science with a thesis centered in bioinformatics.  Currently, I am working toward a master’s in biochemistry from UAHuntsville. I am addicted to learning and have come to realize I may never stop taking classes.

Q: What sparked your passion for science and what keeps you motivated?
My father, a biochemist, moved here for protein crystallization research at NASA.  He used to bring me into his lab on the weekends and teach me how to make solutions, crystallize proteins, calculate the mol’s of each chemical in a solution. The list goes on. I still remember seeing lysozyme crystals under a microscope when I was five. At eight, I saw a space shuttle launch down in Cape Canaveral because Dad’s experiment was going into space. The things he taught me as a child sparked my imagination for what science could achieve. A year after I joined the institute my father did as well. He now works for one of the resident associate companies, iXpressGenes Inc.

Q: What is it the best part of your job?
I love being on the bleeding edge of technology. Every day brings brand new problems, new technologies, new boundaries to push, and new and exciting research projects.  Every day I get to learn something new!

Q: What do you like best about being at HudsonAlpha?
The people here are like a family.  My coworkers are helpful, encouraging and passionate about their research and about HudsonAlpha.  I love that I get to help these people in some small way every day.