Amnon Koren has won the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, a grant that funds high-risk, high-reward projects from creative, budding scientists at the beginning of their careers as independent investigators. The New Innovators are considered to be among the best and brightest newcomers to PI-dom and each receive a bio on the NIH website, along with $300K per year of flexible spending for their lab.
Amnon, who was previously a postdoc in the McCarroll lab, started his own lab at Cornell University a year ago. There, he spent his first month grant writing at a makeshift desk hunched over his laptop, because his office was being renovated and his desktop computer hadn’t been shipped. “My laptop couldn’t even run MATLAB,” he said. “I had to hope the figures were okay because I couldn’t regenerate them.”
The figures were better than okay, since they not only won him this grant, but also attracted a host of technicians, programmers, graduate students, and postdocs. His lab is now bustling with eight people, and his wetlab/drylab space is often shown by the department chair to guests. Amnon admitted he’s proud of his lab, but the transition from researcher to PI has been difficult, especially adjusting to the sheer number of tasks he has to do in parallel. However, he’s excited to watch more research projects than he could do alone come to fruition under his guidance.
The project he proposed for the grant further develops the DNA replication timing work he did in our lab. In that work, he showed that whole genome sequences contain signatures of DNA replication activities that can be used to study replication dynamics. His lab will investigate replication timing across 2000 genomes for three cell types, linking replication timing with local chromatin structure, gene expression, and most importantly, mutation rate. See, the mutation rate across the human genome can vary up to 6-fold, with a main driving factor being replication timing (the later a genomic region replicates, the less time there is for the cell to find and fix mutations). Population-level differences in replication timing may result in individuals having different mutational landscapes, thus altering their risk of genetic diseases and cancer, and changing the evolutionary trajectories of their corresponding families and populations. Amnon’s project to catalogue this polymorphic replication timing will be a first step in understanding the variation in mutation rates and could possibly establish an entire scientific field devoted to replication timing.
Amnon is excited to get to work on this project and is even more excited to do it in his beautiful lab space with his dedicated staff. We wish him all the luck as he embarks on a new stage in his life.