Kelley Harris studied mathematics as an undergraduate at Harvard University and transitioned into genomics during a postgraduate year at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. She then earned a PhD in Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, with a Designated Emphasis in Computational Biology, where she continued building statistical methods that describe how genome sequences evolve. In January 2018, Harris will finish her postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University and become an assistant professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington.
Learning to read a genome like a history book
All genetic variation starts with copying mistakes in the transmission of DNA from parent to child, and every genome contains a record of millions of mutations inherited from hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of ancestors. Today, anyone can access databases of thousands of human genomes, and Harris spent her Ph.D. building evolutionary models to interpret the historical record of mutation events found within these databases. She came to the surprising conclusion that the mutation process itself has continued to evolve during recent human history – all European genomes are heavily marked by a type of mutation that is relatively rare in Africa and East Asia.