Loyola Magazine

Graduate receives accolades for Human Genomics research

Meet Adam Phillippy, '02, Human Genome Scientist and one of Time Magazine's "Most Influential People of 2022"
Illustration of two scientists modifying a DNA sequence

Adam Phillippy, senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), was recently named to TIME’s “100 Most Influential People of 2022” list for his research related to human genome sequencing.

Phillippy, who earned his B.S. in computer science from Loyola in 2002, first began researching genomics at the University in 2000. While at Loyola, Phillippy was a research assistant, a participant in intramural sports, and a Hauber Summer Research Fellow who completed research with Arthur Delcher, Ph.D., professor emeritus of computer science. After he graduated from Loyola, Phillippy went on to earn his master’s and doctorate in computer science from University of Maryland, College Park.

Adam Phillippy portrait photo
Adam Phillippy, '02, human genome expert feature in TIME 100.

As the head of the Genome Informatics Section and a senior investigator in the Computational and Statistical Genomics Branch at NHGRI, Phillippy works to intertwine the fields of computer science and genomics. In April his team of genome scientists announced that they had completed the final 200 million bases of the human genomic sequence, leading to their inclusion in TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list.

Phillippy shares more about his work and how his Jesuit education and experiences at Loyola have informed and shaped his career.

Tell us about the research that contributed to your TIME magazine recognition.

You can think of the human genome as an instruction manual for building a person, and it contains approximately 3 billion letters. To this day we can only read small pieces of it at a time that we must stitch together again, like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

When I first started doing genomics research as a student at Loyola in 2000, the initial Human Genome Project was just wrapping up, and the excitement around this ambitious initiative is what drew me to the field. However, due to technological limitations at the time, only about 92% of the genome was finished by 2003. In the last decade, new technologies have emerged, making it possible to finish the last 8% of the puzzle earlier this year.

What does your Loyola education mean to you?

Looking back, it’s clear that I benefited tremendously from a core curriculum that included writing and other humanities courses because most of my work now involves critical reading, writing, and mentoring.

Even more important was the amazing mentorship I received from professors like Dr. Delcher and Roberta Sabin, Ph.D., professor emerita of computer science, who introduced me to the field of computer science and really nurtured my success.

What’s next for you?

My team is continuing to develop methods that will enable the routine sequencing of complete genomes as part of standard clinical care. The hope is that this understanding will enable better health care that is tailored for each individual person—for example, predicting disease susceptibility or prescribing effective medicines based on a person’s unique genome.