Renowned genomics researcher Dr. Richard Gibbs of Baylor College of Medicine has been awarded the prestigious honor of the Companion of the Order of Australia – an accolade issued by the Australian government that recognizes eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or humanity at large.
The announcement was made today by the Australian government in celebration of The Queen’s Birthday, a public holiday in Australia. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, with Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of the United Kingdom, serving as head of state.
He is a pioneer of the field of genomics and has helped to advance next generation technologies, such as whole exome and whole genome sequencing, which have revolutionized clinicians’ and scientists’ ability to make diagnosis in rare diseases and other genetic disorders.
Nominees for the honor are submitted directly from the community but are approved by the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat at the Government House in Canberra and recommended directly to the Governor General of Australia.
Gibbs received both a Bachelor of Science and Ph.D. in genetics and radiation biology from the University of Melbourne, in Australia.
Following completion of his Ph.D. program in 1985, he moved to Baylor as a postdoctoral fellow to study the molecular basis of human X-linked diseases (single gene disorders that reflect the presence of defective genes on the X chromosome) and to develop technologies for rapid genetic analysis.
During his time as a postdoc, Gibbs developed several fundamental nucleic acid technologies applied to genomic sequencing.
In 1991, Gibbs joined the Baylor genetics faculty and contributed to the early formulation of the aims of the international Human Genome Project.
The HGP was an international, collaborative research program whose goal was the complete mapping and understanding of all the genes of human beings.
He founded the National Institutes of Health-supported Human Genome Sequencing Center in 1996, one of five worldwide sequencing sites, to enable Baylor’s contribution to the completion of the Project in 2004.
The Center is now one of three federally funded large-scale genome sequencing centers designated by the NIH. It is leading research into the genetics of human disease, including cancer, heart disease and autism.
“Dr. Gibbs was an exceptional fellow in my laboratory with keen interest in the emerging technology of automated DNA sequencing,” said Dr. Thomas Caskey, currently a professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor, who helped recruit Gibbs to Baylor. “His drive and dedication established one of the first DNA sequencing facilities in the country at Baylor. His early experience and innovation led to his identification as an international leader of the United States genome initiative. Many disease/gene associations owe their discovery to Dr. Gibbs’ program. He was a game changer for the department and the Texas Medical Center. His recognition is well-deserved.”
Caskey, along with Dr. Arthur Beaudet, who recently announced he is stepping down as chair of the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor after holding that position since 1994, came to Baylor in 1971 to establish a genetics program. Caskey served as the director of the Center for Genetics at Baylor, the center that preceded the establishment of the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor.
“Richard Gibbs has built the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine from nothing to one of the top programs of its type in the world, and maybe the single best program in the world in terms of linkage to the practice of medicine,” said Beaudet.
Gibbs was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2011 and became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia in 2013.
He will be presented with the award in September in Canberra, Australia.