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Co-inventor of Gene Sequencer Joins UW Chemistry Department

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Analytical chemist Norman Dovichi, whose research team co-invented the gene sequencer used to sequence the human genome, has moved his laboratory to the UW’s Department of Chemistry. 

Dovichi and six members of his team —three graduate students and three post-doctoral researchers—have made the switch to the UW from Canada’s University of Alberta. 

His main criteria for such a move, says Dovichi, were that an institution have a strong analytical chemistry tradition and be near a good medical school. The UW clearly fills the bill on both counts. In addition it offers numerous opportunities for collaboration, both on campus and in the large number of science-related companies and institutes in the Seattle area.

“The work that I do is as interdisciplinary as it comes,” Dovichi says. “It has hints of chemistry, biology, microbiology, and engineering all mixed together.” 

Dovichi’s group in Edmonton published its research on the second-generation gene sequencer at virtually the same time as a group from Hitachi Ltd. of Tokyo. The result, based on the first-generation instrument developed by Leroy Hood, was an instrument that could determine the sequence of DNA within the human genome. Scientists at Celera Genomics Group used that sequencer in their version of the Human Genome. 

Now that the DNA-sequencing project is virtually complete, Dovichi will focus on developing tools for the next step—high-speed and high-sensitivity protein analysis. In one project his group is developing a fully automated protein analysis instrument. In another, his group is studying the proteins from a single cancer cell to identify prognostic markers that can guide therapy. 

Dovichi, who spent 14 years at the University of Alberta, got to know UW chemistry faculty in 1999 when he delivered a seminar on campus. A glowing reaction from faculty members—particularly those outside analytical chemistry—was key for chemistry chairman Paul Hopkins to pursue Dovichi. 

“Analytical chemistry is the unsung hero in the field of chemistry,” says Hopkins, “because those researchers find methods to solve problems rather than working directly on the problems.”