About Devin Absher
Devin Absher, PhD
Location: 601 Genome Way, Huntsville, AL 35806
Devin Absher, PhD, is riding an epigenomic wave and looking for the next surge in biotechnology.
Absher’s work as a faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology focuses on complex diseases, which are caused by a combination of genes and the environment. He looks at the epigenome – a molecular feature of the genome that is influenced by environmental exposure and genetic inheritance for any individual – and tries to understand how it varies across people. Then he examines how that variation is connected to autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer or aging, for example.
“The epigenome sits at this interface between the genes we inherit and the environment we’re exposed to,” he says. “Anything that is complex and likely has a genetic and environmental component is a candidate for epigenetic analysis.”
After earning his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from Emory University in Atlanta, Absher finished his postdoctoral research at Stanford with Richard Myers, PhD, president and scientific director of HudsonAlpha. He went on to become a senior scientist at the Stanford Human Genome Center and joined HudsonAlpha in 2008. Absher says it became clear while working with Myers that genetic information alone was never going to explain the risks for all of the traits involved in complex diseases.
“When we began to understand that those complex traits would not be fully explained by genetic analysis alone, we had to think about other ways to do it,” Absher says. “At the same time, the technology for studying the epigenome was really beginning to evolve.”
Absher followed that wave of epigenomic research, and he’s keeping his eye out to see where the next swell could come from. “We’ll use that next technology wave for the science that’s coming up,” he says. “Especially in genomics, which is technology dependent, we have to anticipate what is going to enable the next massive paradigm shift.”