Norma Neff

Director of the Genomics Platform


How did you become interested in science?

I first became interested in science when I participated in a National Science Foundation (NSF) summer program between my junior and senior years in high school. I had classes in the morning, and I worked in a lab in the afternoon. The lectures were primarily on biochemistry, and the lab work entailed doing enzyme assays. This led to my decision to major in biochemistry at Rice University.

What was your educational path?

I went to Rice University in Houston, which is where I grew up. I was focused on biochemistry and also did undergraduate projects in enzymology. I then ended up at UC Berkeley as a graduate student in the Biochemistry Department.

As a graduate student working in nucleic acid enzymology, I got interested in the idea of trying to make mutants in RNA polymerase. In order to gain experience in genetics, I convinced my thesis advisor to send me to a summer course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. One of the professors there was David Botstein of MIT.

Through David, I then ended up doing a postdoc with him at MIT. I worked on yeast genetics and cloned the first yeast tubulin genes. I also worked with Frank Solomon at the MIT Cancer Center on mammalian tubulin – the filaments that make chromosomes separate after cell division. Then, I worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, and also at the New York Blood Center. I was in New York for more than 20 years, living uptown, downtown and in Queens.

What brought you to CZ Biohub?

In 2007 I came to work with Rick Myers who was the Chairman of Genetics at Stanford on the ENCODE project. After Rick moved his lab to Alabama, I started working for Steve Quake who is now co-president of CZ Biohub.

CZ Biohub is an opportunity to work with a lot of interesting, smart people and do exciting work. In academia, you can spend a lot of time worrying about one gene and how it’s behaving. I wanted to do more diagnostics and translational research.

One of my jobs is to make the sequencing technology accessible to the academic community in the Bay Area. I look forward to interacting with all sorts of different people. We are on the hunt for researchers with unique collections of clinical samples. Maybe they have thought about sequencing them but never had the chance because it seems challenging and expensive. I like delivering sequence data to researchers, giving them an opportunity to look at their cells in a more unbiased and quantitative way.

I continue to work at Stanford as well. I am responsible for single cell sequencing at both places. This includes working on the Cell Atlas project.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?

I do a lot of biking and hiking, anything to be outside. I also garden. Right now we’re having really good tomato weather. I just have to contend with the snails. They love tomatoes and basil.

Educational Background

  • BA – Rice University
  • PhD – University of California, Berkeley
  • Post Doc – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Focused on yeast genetics
  • Post Doc – Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cancer Center
    Focused on tubulin