Skip to main content
Cheryl Keller with sequencer

Genomics Research Incubator expands assay and training options for scientists

1 November 2023
Cheryl Keller in lab coat and Huiqing Zeng next to sequencer
Research Professor Cheryl Keller gestures to an Illumina NextSeq2000 DNA sequencer while speaking with research technologist Huiqing Zeng. Credit: Keith Hickey/Penn State

Many Penn State researchers are familiar with the Genomics Core Facility in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, where hundreds of researchers work with tens of thousands of samples every year. Since 2022, a complementary endeavor has made another sequencing option available to University scientists.

Established under the leadership of Cheryl Keller, research professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, the Genomics Research Incubator (GRI) is available to aid and enhance research and training by providing expert advice, guidance and direct access to highly specialized genomics and epigenomics assays utilizing high throughput sequencing. This technology allows researchers to process genetic material much quicker and in larger quantities, producing more detailed data for more in-depth analyzes. 

“These assays, many of which require careful handling of low input biosamples, have become increasingly critical to the study of global gene regulation and other cellular processes,” Keller said. “However, many of these assays are currently not offered by the Huck Genomics Core. Importantly, successful grant proposals increasingly depend on such innovative and cutting-edge technologies, which are often inaccessible to faculty without experienced personnel to design and carry out these sophisticated genomics experiments.”

Keller is a longtime Penn Stater, obtaining her doctorate from the biochemistry, microbiology and molecular biology program in 1999 before taking a postdoctoral appointment with Bernhard Luscher, professor in the Eberly College of Science. She worked in lab of Ross Hardison, the T. Ming Chu Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, as an assistant research professor and later an associate research rrofessor from 2009 to 2022. It was in Hardison’s lab that she gained much of her extensive experience working with massively parallel NextGen sequencing, being directly involved with the sequencing of over 5,000 libraries and receiving co-authorship credit on more than 50 publications.

In 2022, with support from the Eberly College of Science, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and several faculty in the Center for Eukaryotic Gene Regulation, Keller opened the GRI on the third floor of Wartik Laboratory. She stressed that the incubator is a supplemental option to the Genomics Core.

“If the Genomics Core can meet your needs, researchers are encouraged to utilize this fantastic resource,” Keller said. “If, however, you are interested in a specialized or custom genomics or epigenomics assay that that Genomics Core does not currently support, or if there is a need for hands-on training in a specific protocol, methodology or instrumentation, the GRI may be able to help.”

Cheryl Keller with sequencer
Cheryl Keller loads well plates into a PCR system. Credit: Keith Hickey/Penn State

James Marden, professor of biology and the Huck’s associate director of operations, said he saw the decision for the Huck to take on support of the GRI as an obvious one, citing the project’s alignment with the needs and goals of life science investigators.

“The Huck Institutes looks for ways to help researchers, especially at the intersection of disciplines, so our scientists advance farther and faster than if left on their own,” Marden said. “Genomics has been a Penn State strength and the GRI will help continue that by providing expert collaboration with advanced DNA and RNA methods and analyses.”

Keller says that such assays include, but are not limited to, chromatin immunoprecipitation, ATAC-seq, CUT&Tag, CUT&RUN and chromatin confirmation assays, which are used in a wide array of studies in gene regulation and other processes. Samples generated in the GRI can then be sequenced at GRI or Genomics Core as needed.

“I envision that users who consult and collaborate on the early aspects of specialized genomics projects via the GRI will increase both sample quality and overall demand for DNA sequencing by laboratories that use the Genomics Core,” Keller said.

To learn more about the Genomics Research Incubator, visit the Huck Institutes website.