In 2015, when Bill Sullivan called for an Institute for the Study of Non-model Organisms in Molecular Biology of the Cell, he labeled this idea a “fantasy.” Just 6 years ago, he laid out how difficulties in securing funding and organizational support for research in understudied organisms made it such. At Arcadia, we think the time is right to now make this dream a reality.
Over the last several decades, technological advances, from imaging to mass spectrometry to genomics, have made it possible to generate the kinds of rich data sets needed to understand diverse organisms more quickly. More than ever, we have the opportunity to couple the right people, ideas, and technologies with generous resources to more boldly explore across the tree of life.
We should seize this moment.
We have begun building an ecosystem at Arcadia modeled after our goals: (1) to supercharge exploration in new organisms, and (2) be maximally useful to the broader community, beyond Arcadia. Our challenge is to first figure out how we bring together the best biological explorers with the most creative technologists. Ideally, the scientists who explore and the technologists who invent tools fuel each other’s progress. New tools open up avenues for biological exploration. In turn, biological discoveries inspire the next generation of technologies. They are partners in this endeavor, and fostering this partnership will be key to our success.
To ensure this partnership is symbiotic at Arcadia, we are placing our technology scientists at the center of our organization. They are the critical enablers who will accelerate our science, tie together the diverse biologists exploring in disparate places, and help everyone push beyond what they think is possible. We hope to give our technology scientists both the biological problems to invent tools for and the space to innovate in their own ways. When cars were invented, it was noted, “If we had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” We want our technologists to help us leap forward in unexpected ways.
But technologists can’t see their full potential without the right partners in place. Therefore, we are seeking the kinds of discovery scientists who fully embrace this symbiosis and see Arcadia as an opportunity to work as part of a larger team to try some wild things. They are dogged domain experts, ready to use whatever tools necessary to understand the biology of their organisms. We also need technology scientists who can do the essential work of collaborating with discovery scientists to implement existing tools. For those who work on understudied organisms, figuring out how to deploy technologies that have been optimized for model systems is a major gap that needs to be bridged. It’s an important but often thankless job. We plan to celebrate it.
Over the next several years, we will be hiring at Arcadia with these ideas in mind. To encourage Arcadians to collaborate on scientific goals, we will be structuring scientists into small teams of no more than 5. There will also be independent scientists of all types and experience levels who move fluidly between teams. While we are still busy getting set up, strategizing, and meeting more of you, I am beyond thrilled to announce two of our early hires who are ready to roll up their sleeves and create a new community with us:
1. Jase Gehring, Technology Scientist, Molecular Technologies
Jase is joining as our first Technology Scientist for Molecular Technologies. Jase grew up on the banks of the Missouri River in Iowa and Nebraska. He earned his undergraduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill in 2012 and his PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley in 2018, after which he did a couple postdoctoral stints with Lior Pachter at Caltech and Jay Shendure at the University of Washington.
Jase is awed and humbled by the vastness of biological sequence space. He views biology as a data problem, and his solution is to develop novel experiments that allow faster, deeper exploration of sequence-function relationships in organisms and genomes. Jase is a true inventor. His ideas combine technologies in new ways, drawing on concepts from microfluidics, genomics, imaging, biochemistry, and molecular biology to generate datasets and data types that were previously inaccessible. He wants to be on the leading edge of both technology and biology, and to push limits in throughput, cost, and resolution. I’m excited by his desire to constantly think bigger about how new technologies could enable exploration of new organisms both at and beyond Arcadia.
2. Rachel Dutton, Team Lead and Director of Microbial Sciences
Rachel is joining as a Discovery Scientist and Team Lead for Cheese Microbiomes. Rachel grew up in South San Francisco and fell in love with microbiology as an undergraduate at UC San Diego. After completing her PhD at Harvard Medical School, her fascination with the astounding diversity of the microbial world led her to make the leap from using established model systems to exploring natural microbial communities. As a Bauer Fellow at Harvard University and Associate Professor at UC San Diego, her lab has worked on the captivating and delicious microbial communities found on cheese to bridge the gap between in situ analyses of microbial diversity and in vitro studies of microbial interactions.
As she transitions to a full-time role at Arcadia, Rachel will also be our Director of Microbial Sciences to help build and mentor a cluster of our scientists and teams to think together about the full diversity of microbes around us. Traditionally, we have had to silo different microbial groups into distinct disciplines to advance effectively. In reality, bacteria, archaea, viruses, and eukaryotes interact closely and dynamically, and emergent properties arising from these interactions are fascinating and underexplored. To study them, we need to develop and deploy tools that enable a more inclusive view of microbiomes, both in situ and in vitro. Rachel will be helping to bring together scientists from historically divided disciplines to work towards a more comprehensive view of microbial life. Her mission is to understand how complex interspecies interactions drive outcomes that cannot be predicted by studying species in isolation.
I’d like to throw out a crazy new fantasy for the next generation of scientists to consider: a future where we have the tools, infrastructure, and concerted effort to rapidly study almost any organism. We could move beyond a “model organism” framework altogether. Instead of thinking about what questions could be asked within a model system, we could flip the script and think first about which organisms would be most strategic for our burning questions. Biology could become the tool.
So let’s get to work. Let’s lay the groundwork so that we can dream of a future Institute of No More Model Organisms. Join us.