Turning genomics into real-life solutions

Lara Urban, incoming PI @Helmholtz Pioneer Campus & HelmholtzMunich, has a proven record of translating 21st century molecular tools into practical solutions.

The diversity of molecular interrogation tools, broadly called ‘multi-omics’, together with soaring AI-based algorithms, accelerate biomedical discovery and will hopefully soon transform medical practices. Intriguingly, there are powerful examples outside the immediate biomedical space that outline what it takes to turn these 21st century technologies into meaningful applications with global impact. 

Incoming Helmholtz Pioneer Dr. Lara Urban was recently featured by Nature Methods for her commendable efforts in genomics-based conservation of New Zealand’s biodiversity (1, 2).

Lara summarizes the major lessons learned from this Humboldt -funded, 2.5 yrs. project as follows:
- the importance of engineering simplified and field-fit versions of usually laboratory-based equipment;
- flexibly establish and operate in private-public partnerships;
- the relevance to understand and strictly adopt local/regional cultural and socio-economic conditions, as to facilitate any projects’ success;
-embrace truly global and cross-institutional/-organizational collaborations, as neither science nor resulting actions can succeed in isolation;

‘These extremely relevant take-aways and rather unique experiences will certainly influence my future career decisions’ states Lara. While adding that ‘the establishment of new infrastructures to effectively share scientific data plus efficient communication – both among scientists and to inform/engage stakeholders as well as the general public - rank similarly high on my agenda.'

And biodiversity-species conservation is not the only area in which Lara successfully applied ‘real-life’ genome-sequencing based technologies for monitoring. In a pilot study in the river Cam (Cambridge UK), she and her collaborators reported taxonomic classification and temporal gradients of microbiomes that promise predictive human-health related pathogen surveillance (3). All in all, such tangible problem-addressing, solutions-engineering and ultimate-execution capabilities reflect the rather general and still deeply scientific-routed ambitions of Lara Urban, who is going to focus the next chapter of her career on planetary health @HelmholtzMunich, a field in which researchers assess how ecosystems and human health are intertwined, thereby exploring big data and artificial-intelligence-based analytics to bring on real-life practical solutions.