Duke Biology Alum Helps Unveil the Human Genome

Duke Biology Alum Helps Unveil the Human Genome

Nicolas Altemose started doing research on the human genome during his first year at Duke. Now, the Biology major and 2011 graduate has contributed to one of the decade’s biggest advances in science and medicine: the most complete sequencing of the human genome to date.

Along with a team of 99 scientists from all over the world, Altemose helped fill in many gaps in the human genome, correct past errors and find over a hundred seemingly functional new genes. His contribution focuses on centromeres, the bundle of DNA that ties together the two arms of a chromosome.

Altemose has been working on gaps in the human genome since he joined Huntington Willard’s lab at Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.

In a 2011 interview with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Altemose said that he developed close connections with Willard and the graduate students in his lab.

“I completely clicked with them,” he said. “I felt that these were good mentors who could teach me what research was all about.”

Upon graduation, in 2011, Altemose was awarded the Edward C. Horn Memorial Prize for Excellence in Biology, given each year to the graduating Biology major who has shown the highest level of academic achievement and promise, in the opinion of the department’s faculty.

He was also awarded a Marshall Fellowship to continue research in his field of study after graduation. This fellowship led him to Oxford, where he completed a DPhil in Statistical Genetics at Oxford University.

From Oxford, Altemose went on to a Ph.D. in Bioengeneering at the University of California, Berkeley, for which he received an HHMI Gillian Fellowship.

In 2020, Altemose was awarded the prestigious HHMI Hannah H. Gray fellowship for his postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, recognizing exceptional early career scientists from underrepresented backgrounds.

Read more about the 2021 genome mapping results and Altemose’s research in the New York Times.