Last month was a wonderful one for our campus. On April 1, UC Santa Cruz released the first truly complete sequence of a human genome, covering each chromosome from end to end with no gaps and unprecedented accuracy. In the genetic manuscript for life, this scientific feat allowed researchers to see chapters that had never before been read. It immediately opened up new territories for scientists, with a promise of practical applications in the realm of personalized medicine.
You didn’t need to look hard to find the news. The feat, and hence our campus, garnered extensive media coverage nationally and internationally. Karen Miga, UCSC assistant professor of biomolecular engineering, and Adam Phillippy of the National Human Genome Research Institute led the international team of scientists that filled in the missing pieces. The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Nature, Science, and most all of the major TV networks and cable news channels covered the story. It was something we can all take great pride in.
I am equally excited, though, about the story behind this story, and where that will lead us in the future.
Our campus, as many of you know, has a long history of pioneering research advances. The first working draft of a human genome was assembled on our campus in 2000, which led to enormous leaps in our collective understanding of human biology and disease. Around the same time, advances in what is known as nanopore sequencing technology were being made by UCSC biomolecular engineers David Deamer and Mark Akeson. It’s possible to draw a through-line from those advances a quarter-century ago to the work happening in the Miga Lab today.
This latest scientific feat was only possible because of nanopore sequencing technology pioneered at UCSC. We licensed that technology to a company, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, which has commercialized it, making it available to other scientists as they push forward the boundaries of knowledge. We are using the licensing revenue from this invention to further strengthen the university’s innovation ecosystem and support structures.
Our UC Santa Cruz Innovation and Business Engagement Hub has been up and running for about a year now. We designed it to facilitate and strengthen connections between students, faculty, staff, alumni, industry leaders and investors, and the greater community. The Hub serves as the nexus for UC Santa Cruz’s innovation community, the business community, our innovation partners, and investors.
An example of the university’s research impact is the success of the campus spinoff Cruz Foam. This startup, which incubated at UCSC, is commercializing patented biopolymer technology for sustainable packaging. The company creates a biodegradable version of styrofoam manufactured from shrimp shells. Actors and environmental activists Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher recently joined the Cruz Foam board as investors and advisers. Home appliances giant Whirlpool is one of the company’s first major customers.
The revenue that Cruz Foam and other campus-affiliated ventures create for the university will in turn fund the next generation of campus researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs whose discoveries may benefit the world. Those stories are still to be written — but I am so excited to read the ending.
Cynthia Larive, Chancellor