Scientist Spotlight: Todd Michael

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Scientist Spotlight: Todd Michael

A love of science began for Todd Michael, PhD when his 7th grade teacher had him write a report on tree leaves. After collecting different leaves and looking up their tree type, he realized that although all of the trees were similar, they grew different types of leaves. He was certain there was a reason and was determined to figure it out. This moment was the spark that inspired Todd’s interest in reading and interpreting the genetic code that determines differences between organisms.

A common theme for J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) scientists and bioinformatics engineers is teachers and mentors that exposed them to interesting areas of biology and computer science that grew into lifelong pursuits. As Director of informatics at JCVI, where his group focuses on reading and writing genomes, Todd recognizes that early computer science education is critical to creating the field experts of the future. As a starting Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, Todd designed a class that taught biologists basic coding skills, and he is an advocate for more advanced programming classes in middle school and high school.

Todd’s path to science as a career was nevertheless, unique. While his education led to a standard PhD, postdoctoral fellowship and faculty position at Rutgers, he left academia to run the genome center at Monsanto and later to lead genomics at Abbott Labs. His big company route eventually led him back to his research roots. He joined JCVI, early pioneers and continued innovators in sequencing genomes, to further chase interpreting the code that fueled his childhood fascination with science.

At JCVI, Todd focuses on sequencing genomes and developing new techniques and technologies. He is still fascinated by the new discoveries we make on a variety of organisms from how genomes are structured and how small changes can lead to disease or protect one’s health, new features of plants, or fixing excess carbon in the atmosphere.

When Todd isn’t working in the lab at JCVI, he can be found in the ocean surfing. Because of his love of surfing and plants, he collects algae and other organisms in the ocean, as well as assembling their genomes in his spare time. He also has quite the green thumb and enjoys growing bonsai miniature plants and adventuring on plant collecting trips in places like Brazil. While there, he works with collaborators to grow these unique plants and further catalogue and sequence the genomes.