Neville Sanjana, Ph.D.
New York Genome Center & New York University
As an undergraduate at Stanford University, Neville Sanjana pursued diverse academic training, culminating in degrees in English Literature and Symbolic Systems. During his junior and senior year, he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Joshua Tenenbaum conducting human subjects experiments and constructing Bayesian models of human learning.
When he began his graduate training in the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences at MIT, he wanted to learn neurophysiology. He soon joined Dr. Sebastian Seung’s lab — Sebastian also had a computational background and was just starting a new physiology effort using primary cultures of dissociated rat hippocampal neurons.
While finishing his Ph.D., he learned that adenosine-to-inosine RNA editing was enriched in brain-specific genes and speculated that there might exist a connection between neural activity and RNA editing levels. He taught himself several molecular biology techniques and sought out collaborators in Dr. George Church’s lab to help with high-throughput sequencing.
After graduation, he met Dr. Feng Zhang and joined him as his first postdoctoral fellow. Within six months, he developed an optimized protocol for synthesis of TALE nucleases and transcriptional activators (published in Nature Protocols) that included an innovative DNA circularization step to select for correctly assembled TALE monomers. He was invited to present this work to DoE’s Joint Genome Institute and to a gene therapy course in Portugal. In those first months, his molecular biology knowledge grew tremendously and his interest in bioengineering and synthetic biology blossomed.
With TALEs, he started a new project to model autism-related mutations in human pluripotent stem cells, yielding 50 isogenic stem cell lines to model the 10 most common de novo autism mutations. With both his TALE and CRISPR work, it has been a priority to share these new tools with the scientific community.