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School of Arts and Sciences

Sergei Mirkin, White Family Chair in Biology, reflects on his endowed professorship.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sergei Mirkin, White Family Chair in Biology, reflects on his endowed professorship.

Professor Sergei Mirkin

By Molly Keady, A14

Dr. Sergei Mirkin holds the White Family Chair professorship at Tufts. Endowed professorships bring leading scholars and researchers to Tufts who invigorate the entire academic enterprise with their expertise.

Professor Sergei MirkinProfessor Sergei Mirkin, White Family Chair in Biology, in his lab in Dana Laboratory. (Melody Ko/Tufts University)

Why do you love what you do?

"There are three major reasons why I love working in science. One is because being a scientist is a rare occupation in which you are actually being paid to figure things out. When you are a scientist and you figure something out, it potentially has a major impact on human well-being. Second, I work on the origin of certain genetic and non-genetic human diseases, and that is groundbreaking. It is exciting from a health perspective. The third reason is that I am an old man, but I am surrounded by young colleagues. And that keeps me young."

Can you share some of your recent accomplishments, of which you're most proud?

"We published a very exciting paper last November about sequences called interstitial telomeric repeats. There are particular elements called telomeres at the end of human chromosomes and other chromosomes that consist of repetitive DNA. Occasionally the sequences can be found inside chromosomes. These sequences form weak areas where the genome can break. Sometimes, while the genomes repair themselves, various changes will occur that lead to human disease, such as cancer. Why this was happening was not known before our research. We found various mechanisms leading to genetic variations at interstitial telomeric repeats. This discovery was really exciting for us, because we wanted to study this for a long time and finally this last year we did it."

"Grant wise, this has also been a very good year for me—surprisingly good given the very tight funding situation in this country. I renewed my major National Institutes of Health grant, and three Tufts labs just received a major grant called a Program Project grant with our colleagues from two labs at Brandeis."

"At any given time, I have several students working with me.  Currently, I have 2 graduate students—one in an M.D. program and the other in a Ph.D. program—working in my lab. I also have six undergraduates helping me. It is a great opportunity for students. The summer program we offer at Tufts - the Research Experience for Undergraduates - is another great way of giving undergraduates from Tufts and outside of Tufts the opportunity to work with us in the lab."

How has the White Family Chair in Biology made a difference in your work?

"I have the luxury to pursue my research even if there's a break in my external funding. This endowment came with a substantial research fund, which provides security for my research. I am much less restricted in what I can do, and I certainly worry much less than I would have if I didn't have it. Because the endowment pays my nine-month salary, my teaching load is less than it would have been otherwise, which provides me with more time for research. I also have the luxury of teaching the courses I enjoy, which is a rare treat."

Visit Dr. Mirkin's research website >