|Michael Snyder (second student from left) credits his advanced chemistry teacher,
Mr. Darby (back row), with giving him the freedom to explore science through independent research projects.
Bridging chemistry and biology
The iPOP work showcases Snyder’s longstanding interest in understanding what differs between people at the molecular level. “We’re all really chemical reactions. Understanding the basic laws of chemistry will go a long way toward defining what we are,” he says. He feels the mission of a molecular biologist is to understand how chemical reactions in our bodies differ in their responses to genetic and environmental stimuli. He hopes that researchers soon will become so good at interpreting molecular details that they can use those details to make predictions of how a person with a particular genomic variant will respond to a certain environmental event.
Before iPOP came along, Snyder’s group at Yale University spent considerable effort learning about variation at the transcription level. Snyder cites one of the key findings his group made in yeast when they demonstrated that, contrary to popular belief, the regulatory sequences were not conserved. “There were extensive differences in transcription factor binding even amongst closely related species,” says Snyder. “It took three years to get that paper published, because most people didn’t believe it.” (2) Snyder says that growing evidence “really hammers home the argument that we differ more at the level of regulation than simply coding sequences.”
Snyder’s group also has made inroads into functional genomics and proteomics. They demonstrated the power of using microarrays of transcripts and peptides to study gene expression patterns and protein phosphorylation. Snyder’s laboratory was the first to perform a large-scale functional genomics project in any organism and also created the first proteome chip. They carried out the first high-resolution tiling array for the entire human genome and also spearheaded the use of high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies to study bacterial genomes. Snyder’s laboratory at Stanford, to which he moved three years ago, continues to focus on a variety of projects in the areas of genomics and proteomics both in yeast and humans.
Snyder has donned other hats other than that of a scientist. Between 1998 and 2004, he was chairman of the department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale, during which time the department doubled in size and tripled its funds. He is the chairman of the genomics center at Stanford now, and Davis credits him with setting up a sophisticated sequencing center and working to introduce genome sequencing into clinical practice by partnering with the Stanford University Medical Center. Snyder is also an associate editor for Molecular & Cellular Proteomics (a publication of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). He has experience on the biotechnology side of science through service on various scientific advisory boards and as a founder of five companies.
Snyder’s enthusiasm for science is unrestrained. “Every morning, I tell my kids, ‘I’m going to fun!’ They always tease me back and say, ‘No, you’re not. You’re going to work!’” says Snyder. But he truly means it when he calls work fun. “That’s why I do science. I love it.”
As in every parent-child relationship, Phyllis Snyder gets the last word. “Every mother thinks her son is brilliant,” she says. “And I am no different.”
- 1. Chen, R., et al. Cell 148, 1293 – 1307 (2012).
- 2. Borneman, A.R., et al. Science 317, 815 – 819 (2007).
Editor's note (added July 19, 2012):
A keen reader pointed out that Phyllis Snyder is listed on the Cell paper as an author with an affiliation to Stanford University, so we followed up with Michael Snyder to find out why. He says that he and his co-authors felt that Phyllis Snyder deserved authorship because she provided information and samples that were critical to the study. He adds that Phyllis Snyder’s affiliation with Stanford was a mistake that he hadn’t caught when the paper was submitted to the journal.
Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay (email@example.com) is the senior science writer for ASBMB Today and the technical editor for The Journal of Biological Chemistry. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rajmukhop.
See a presentation by Snyder on “Genomics and Personalized Medicine,” presented in October 2009 and made available as part of Stanford University’s Mini Med School.