JCVI: About / Bios / Sarah Highlander
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Sarah K. Highlander, Ph.D.

Research Interests and Accomplishments 

Sarah K. Highlander is a Professor in the Genomic Medicine Group at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in La Jolla, California. Before joining JCVI, she was an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology and the Human Genome Sequencing Center (HGSC) at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Texas. She has broad expertise in medical and veterinary microbiology, bacterial genetics and microbial genomics resulting from her experiences in academia, the pharmaceutical industry and as a founder of an animal health startup. Dr. Highlander’s current interests are focused on applied microbiome research, comparative microbial genomics and computational metagenomics methods for pathogen discovery in diarrhea of unknown etiology. She is also involved in bacteriotherapy projects currently focused on gastrointestinal disease.

At BCM, Dr. Highlander was a principal investigator for the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) and held leadership positions in the Consortium. She was responsible for oversight of reference genome sequencing at the HGSC and her laboratory created “mock communities” of DNA and cells that are used as benchmarking standards for microbiome studies. She also has a long record of experience studying the pathogenesis of a polymicrobial pneumonia in cattle, called bovine respiratory disease, or shipping fever. The primary bacterial agent in this disease is the gram-negative bacterium, Mannheimia haemolytica, which is the same family as the human respiratory pathogen, Haemophilus influenzae. Her group performed extensive characterization of the M. haemolytica leukotoxin and developed numerous genetic tools for manipulation and tagging of the organism. She holds patents for subunit and live-attenuated vaccines to prevent shipping fever. Dr. Highlander was the lead investigator on several important microbial genome sequencing and annotation projects, including that of M. haemolytica, the community acquired methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus clone USA300 and others.

Dr. Highlander has been a member of the Editorial Board of Infection and Immunity since 1999; she reviews for dozens of microbiology and genomics journals and has served on numerous review panels for the NIH, NSF and USDA. At Baylor College of Medicine she played key roles in education and administration within the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Highlander earned her B.S. in Cellular Biology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Medical Microbiology from the Sackler Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the New York University School of Medicine.

Select Publications

Youmans BP, Ajami NJ, et al.
Characterization of the Human Gut Microbiome During Travelers' Diarrhea.

Gut Microbes. 2015 Feb 01; 6: 110-9.[more]

Spinler JK, Sontakke A, et al.
From Prediction to Function Using Evolutionary Genomics: Human-specific Ecotypes of Lactobacillus reuteri Have Diverse Probiotic Functions.

Genome Biology and Evolution. 2014 Jul 01; 6: 1772-89.[more]

Youmans BP, Ajami NJ, et al.
Development and Accuracy of Quantitative Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction Assays for Detection and Quantification of Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) Heat Labile and Heat Stable Toxin Genes in Travelers' Diarrhea Samples.

The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 2014 Jan 01; 90: 124-32.[more]

Kozich JJ, Westcott SL, et al.
Development of a Dual-index Sequencing Strategy and Curation Pipeline for Analyzing Amplicon Sequence Data on the MiSeq Illumina Sequencing Platform.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2013 Sep 01; 79: 5112-20.[more]

Methé BA, Nelson KE, et al.
A Framework for Human Microbiome Research.

Nature. 2012 Jun 14; 486: 215-21.[more]

Huttenhower C, Gevers D, et al.
Structure, Function and Diversity of the Healthy Human Microbiome.

Nature. 2012 Jun 14; 486: 207-14.[more]

Highlander SK
High Throughput Sequencing Methods for Microbiome Profiling: Application to Food Animal Systems.

Animal Health Research Reviews / Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases. 2012 Jun 01; 13: 40-53.[more]

Ward DV, Gevers D, et al.
Evaluation of 16S RDNA-based Community Profiling for Human Microbiome Research.

PloS One. 2012 Apr 01; 7: e39315.[more]

Highlander SK, Hultén KG, et al.
Subtle Genetic Changes Enhance Virulence of Methicillin Resistant and Sensitive Staphylococcus Aureus.

BMC Microbiology. 2007 Apr 01; 7: 99.[more]

Gioia J, Qin X, et al.
The Genome Sequence of Mannheimia Haemolytica A1: Insights Into Virulence, Natural Competence, and Pasteurellaceae Phylogeny.

Journal of Bacteriology. 2006 Oct 01; 188: 7257-66.[more]