Rhodes scholar Pardis Sabeti graduated with her medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 2006, earning the school's highest honor - the third woman ever to do so. She's also the lead singer and songwriter of the band, Thousand Days, who uses her music to make science appealing to children, especially, girls. As a graduate student at Oxford University in England, Sabeti developed a way to detect natural selection at the level of individual genes. In Eric Lander's lab at the Broad Institute, she scanned the entire human genome to figure out which genes have changed within the last 10,000 years and which have spread rapidly in the human gene pool due to natural selection. With these tools, geneticists can study how cultural and environmental changes have affected the evolution of the human genome. Now Sabeti is applying this technique to her true passion: understanding the interplay between humans and the pathogens that cause diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and leprosy. Her work - published in December 2007 - revealed genes involved in drug resistance and in evading the immune system, giving researchers potential targets for new therapies and vaccines.
Pardis Sabeti: Well, yeah. So it’s always-- That’s a very important question because you have to learn to love whatever you do in the failures as much as the successes because there’ll probably be a lot more failures than successes and so that’s a very important lesson to learn early on, and I learned it early in my career ‘cause my PhD really got off to a pretty poor start and so there was a long period of time where I had to say, “Is this worth it?” And many of my friends were just sort of saying, “You’re already accepted in to medical school. Why do you even need this?” And I think I was just really- the puzzle that I was sort of trying to figure out was just compelling enough to me that I kept going with it.
So I think in science you have to be very patient and you have to enjoy the process and it’s nice to think about where the process will take you but it’s important to enjoy each aspect of the process itself. And so I think that we’re lucky ‘cause we’re in a time right now that there are so many tools available that there are many discoveries being made. So there are just many opportunities to advance the field and it’s coming from all directions so that’s a lucky time but obviously there will be droughts where we figure we’ve kind of tapped the genome to its full potential and looking for the next thing and the difficulties with each aspect of changing paradigms. So there will be periods-- I’ve already experienced some, maybe not the biggest I could experience, but I’ve definitely experienced long periods of failed work and I just- I still enjoy it. I just enjoy the day to day and that’s important.
Recorded on: June 29, 2008