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James Urton

I am a molecular biologist and geneticist with interests in science writing, science communication, and public outreach, and I hope to shift my career into these fields. In addition to writing for BitesizeBio, I also blog on all sorts of science topics at Muller’s Ratchet.

I attended Augustana College in my hometown of Rock Island, Illinois, where I graduated in 2003 with a degree in biology and minors in geology and chemistry. I moved to Seattle, Washington and worked for two years as a research technician in Meng-Chao Yao’s ciliate genetics lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In 2011, I earned my Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Washington. For my dissertation research, I studied sex chromosome evolution in stickleback fishes with Katie Peichel at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. As a postdoc at the University of Washington, I studied the evolution of the chromatin regulatory landscape in the mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana with Christine Queitsch.

Unfortunately, federal budget cuts in 2013 terminated funds for my postdoctoral research. I recently moved back to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where I study how the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans controls cell membrane dynamics and fat metabolism as a senior scientist in Carissa Olsen’s laboratory.

Budget cuts aside, my research interests have always centered on evolutionary questions that can be addressed at the molecular or genetic level.

When not in lab or writing, I’m probably reading, baking, hiking, or playing the piano. I’m a big fan of classical music, Star Trek, grilled cheese sandwiches, paleontology, and my stupid cat.

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Articles by James Urton

I Put a Smell on You: Next Generation Sequencing Sniffs Out Olfactory Signals

I Put a Smell on You: Next Generation Sequencing Sniffs Out Olfactory Signals

By James Urton | February 27, 2014

Chances are you spent some of your teenage years fretting about your social status. You may have even taken steps to change your status. New haircut. New clothes. These are very human behaviors: our complex social constructs include innate desires to broadcast information about ourselves to our peers. The nose knows Science has added layers…

Tower of Babel: Next Generation Sequencing Provides New Insights on Chromosome Construction

Tower of Babel: Next Generation Sequencing Provides New Insights on Chromosome Construction

By James Urton | January 30, 2014

Biologists have long appreciated the complexity of genome organization, but until recently lacked the tools to discern the intricacies of this puzzle. Now, thanks to some handy cross-linking, careful amplification, and (of course!) next generation sequencing, teams from Massachusetts are taking us down the rabbit hole, with some surprising findings from Wonderland. Bend Over Backwards…

“That Belongs To Me!”: NGS Data and Security Part 2

By James Urton | October 10, 2013

In the first part of this article, we revisited progress in genetic testing, from mid-20th century blood-typing through to personalized medicine. The huge increase in personal health and genome data drag along security and ethical questions which, in some cases, lag behind the technology. Genomic data obtained in a clinical setting are largely subject to the…

“That Belongs To Me!”: NGS Data and Security Part 1

By James Urton | October 3, 2013

Genetic testing has been with us for a century. It began with blood typing and tests for metabolic disorders like phenylketonuria (check the warning label on a can of Diet Coke), and by the mid-20th century we’d progressed  to clinical cytogenetics.  Chromosome spreads on a slide helped diagnose aneuploidies such as Down Syndrome (trisomy 21), sex chromosome disorders,…

Land Of The Houyhnhnms: How NGS Turned The Genomic Clock Back 700,000 Years

By James Urton | August 29, 2013

Some 700,000 years ago, a male horse died alone in the Canadian Arctic.  Though he met his demise during a relatively warm period for the Yukon Territory, his corpse settled between thick layers of permafrost and his bones slowly fossilized until, ten years ago, a team of highly intelligent primates unearthed one of his hoof bones.…

Pandascape: Applying Next Generation Sequencing To Conservation Problems

By James Urton | August 8, 2013

You can now add ‘panda conservation’ to your list of next-generation sequencing applications! Earlier this year in Nature Genetics, a team of Chinese and Danish researchers published new findings on genetic diversity and population structure for the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), based on the genome sequences of dozens of wild pandas. Though the darling of Western…

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