TIGR Taps Eric Eisenstadt as Vice President for Research
Eisenstadt Brings Unique Vision for Pushing Genomics Forward
September 7, 2005
Rockville, MD — Eric Eisenstadt has joined The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) as Vice President for Research.
Eisenstadt, whose background is in microbial physiology and genetics, has cultivated interdisciplinary programs in biotechnology for the past 17 years, at both the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office and, before that, the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) Biological Science and Technology Division. As a program manager at DARPA and ONR, Eisenstadt developed and managed diverse research, in which interdisciplinary teams analyzed single-cell gene regulatory networks, sequenced biological warfare microbes, created computational tools for the de novo design of novel proteins, and explored biofabrication's potential in high-efficiency solar cells, among other projects.
"Eric has incredible energy and enthusiasm for what genomics can continue to provide across the life sciences," said TIGR President Claire Fraser. "The forward-looking, multidisciplinary projects he has funded reflect the kind of strategic thinking that TIGR values." Fraser notes that Eisenstadt thinks beyond today's time horizon. "As a scientist, he has consistently asked: Where do we want to be in 10 to 20 years?"
At TIGR, Eisenstadt will lead and mentor TIGR's young and enthusiastic faculty, as they build innovative research programs that take genomic approaches to fundamental biological and biomedical questions in evolution, ecology, and infectious disease. "Among other initiatives, I'd like TIGR to systematically explore ways to apply perspectives and tools from different disciplines, which might enhance our understanding of biological systems from a genomics perspective," says Eisenstadt. "Genomics biologists should explore tapping some modern tools of physics, mathematics, and materials science in their research."
With Eisenstadt's guidance, TIGR will increasingly participate in the development and application of new tools to capture and analyze microbial genomes isolated directly from complex mixtures of organisms in ecological systems, such as the human gut, soil, or marine habitats. "We have an opportunity to develop a genomic view of the environment's microbial diversity," Eisenstadt says. "This work will provide new insights into the structure and function of microbial populations and also the basic genetic and evolutionary mechanisms that drive microbial diversity."
More broadly, Eisenstadt notes that genomics is at a crossroads. Massive amounts of data about organisms and biological systems are being accumulated, at rates that researchers find hard to digest. He compares genomics to astronomy before Kepler and Newton. Back then, astronomers systematically mapped the heavens to predict the movement of stars and planets — but stopped short of finding key principles of motion. Similarly, today's genomics researchers are collecting reams of data with only a few rules or principles in hand to guide that data collection and analysis.
Now, Eisenstadt says, TIGR faculty--in collaboration with scientists from other disciplines--are poised to lead new experimental and computational expeditions into genomics, deepening our basic understanding of biology, infectious diseases, and evolutionary processes. TIGR also will continue to participate in more traditional efforts to harvest genomic information for practical purposes, such as the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Founded in 1992, TIGR, a non-profit research institute, has become a world leader in genomics, deciphering the complete DNA sequences of more than 50 species or microbial strains, from disease pathogens such as anthrax, malaria, and cholera to critical marine microbes. TIGR recently has launched genomics projects on the influenza virus, biothreat agents, and microbial forensics.
Prior to his public service career, Eisenstadt was a professor of microbiology at the Harvard University School of Public Health. While at ONR in the early 1990s, he helped develop the first federally-funded program in computational biology. Even outside work, Eisenstadt is known for scaling new heights. His favorite hurdles can be found in Montana's Glacier National Park, where he frequently hikes with his wife, discovering bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and wildflowers — while avoiding resident grizzlies.