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University of Maryland School of Medicine Genomic Scientist Claire M. Fraser Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

May 03, 2023 | Heide Aungst

Dr. Fraser is the Founding Director of UMSOM’s Institute for Genome Sciences

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has announced that Claire M. Fraser, PhD, the Dean E. Albert Reece Endowed Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), and the Founding Director of the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS), has been elected as a new member of the prestigious academy. Dr. Fraser is one of 120 U.S. and 23 international new members elected on May 2, 2023 to the NAS, bringing its total U.S. membership to 2,565 members. 

Dr. Fraser adds this prestigious appointment to a long list of scientific accomplishments during her career in the genomic and microbial sciences.

“I am honored to be recognized in this way by NAS,” Dr. Fraser said. “Throughout my scientific career, I have collaborated with some great scientists who are also NAS members—and have had the privilege to mentor early-career scientists who may someday also be elected to NAS. While I worked hard for my success, it is these kinds of collaborations that are the backbone of science, and I am thrilled to be included in this esteemed group.”

In 1995 when Dr. Fraser was at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, MD, she and her team were the first to map the complete genetic code of a free-living organism—Haemophilus influenza—the bacterium that causes lower respiratory tract infections and meningitis in infants and young children.

Her discovery forever changed microbiology and launched a new field of study—microbial genomics. During that time, she and her team also sequenced the bacteria behind syphilis and Lyme disease, and eventually the first plant genome and the first human-pathogenic parasite. She even helped identify the source of a deadly 2001 anthrax attack in one of the biggest investigations conducted by U.S. law enforcement. In 2007, Dr. Fraser launched IGS at the University of Maryland, which holds over 25 percent of the funding awarded by the Human Microbiome Project. 

Dr. Fraser came to UMSOM as one of the most highly cited investigators in microbiology. Through her career, she has authored more than 320 scientific publications, is the recipient of numerous awards, and was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2011. From 2019 to 2021, she held leadership positions at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), serving for one year as President-elect, one year as President, and one year as Chair of the AAAS Board of Directors.

“Dr. Fraser’s pioneering work in high-throughput DNA sequencing launched a new field of study, microbial genomics. She has overseen the genome sequencing of important human pathogens, including Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, Vibrio cholerae, Bacillus anthracis, Borrelia burgdorferi, Treponema pallidum, and Plasmodium falciparum. These are responsible for bacterial infections that cause pneumonia, duodenal ulcers, cholera, anthrax, Lyme disease, syphilis, and parasitic infections responsible for malaria and other devastating diseases –providing a strong foundation for the development of new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,”  said Mark Gladwin, MD, Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor, and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“Her more recent work has led to impactful discoveries on how the structure and function of microbial communities in the human gastrointestinal tract change in association with diseases such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. Starting with her first report of the genome sequence of H. influenzae in 1995, there are now more than half a million prokaryotic genome sequences available in public databases.  She has fundamentally changed our understanding of the diversity and evolution of microbial life on Earth, and has been an outstanding mentor, innovator, and leader in the scientific community during her career. We are proud to count her as among our most distinguished UMSOM faculty members!”

Dr. Fraser is the first standing UMSOM faculty member to be elected to NAS. She joins Robert Gallo, MD, as the only UMSOM faculty members elected to both the NAS and to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), which is under the charter of the NAS, recognizing distinguished contributions to medicine and health. UMSOM faculty members who have been elected to the National Academy of Medicine include William Carpenter, Howard Goldman, Myron Levine, Kathleen Neuzil, E. Albert Reece, Paul Stolley, Donald Wilson, and Theodore Woodward, along with Drs. Fraser and Gallo.


Heide Aungst
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