Dedication Personified

Some people want it all—and have the passion to get it.

That’s the case with Murim Choi, who developed data analysis programs used by HHMI investigator Rick Lifton’s lab at Yale School of Medicine to identify hypertension-related mutations. In 2007, when Choi joined the lab, he was determined to master two fields: human genetics and parenthood.

Choi, who got his Ph.D. working on mouse heart development at Duke University, chose to postdoc in the Lifton lab so he could move into human studies. “The Lifton lab was one of the few places with the ability to both screen human patients for mutations and then study their function,” says Choi.

In his first few months, Choi, then a new father, spent his off hours learning computer programming. “When I started my project, I needed to develop skills to analyze huge sets of data, so I bought a book to learn Perl,” he says, referring to a programming language used in bioinformatic analysis. “I did bench work in the daytime and read the book at night.”

His bench slowly gathered dust, however, as Choi spent more time doing data analysis. By 2011, he was first author of two papers, a proof-of-concept “whole exome” analysis method published in 2009 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the February 11, 2011, Science study reporting hypertension-associated potassium channel mutations.

Despite these successes, Choi was spending so much time in the lab that he was losing time with his infant son. So he put himself on an exhausting regime: he left the lab by 5 p.m. to spend evenings at home and then got up and did lab work on his computer between 1 and 5 in the morning. “I didn’t want to be at the lab every night until 11 or 12,” says Choi, referring to the default postdoc lifestyle.

The grueling hours took a physical toll. At the end of 2010, Choi decided it was time to “relax” a bit. He resolved to sleep in until 5 a.m. and then do computer work until his son, now 4 years old, wakes up. “Before, my son used to be the one to wake me from a deep sleep after a long night,” says Choi. “But now when he wakes I am waiting to give him a morning kiss and hug.”

Motivation like this must spring from something personal: Choi was born with a mild form of congenital heart disease. “I underwent surgery to fix it in high school,” he says. “So did my cousin—it’s possibly genetic!” His could be another whole exome, waiting to be sequenced.

-- Elise Lamar
HHMI Bulletin, May 2011

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