Distinguished Staff Award

Nomination category: Impact

Perry Acworth

Gennifer Merrihew

Research Scientist III, MacCoss Lab, Genome Sciences, School of Medicine

Nominated by Michael MacCoss, Professor, Genome Sciences

Awarded 2023

Gennifer Merrihew (she/her) is a staff scientist in my research laboratory. She has dedicated 22+ years to the UW community, 19 of those years in my lab. In that time, she has co-authored 38+ publications, 29 of which involved projects from other labs. This illustrates her scientific contributions, but also her dedication to collaborative interactions with the labs of colleagues across the university, the United States, and the world.

She excelled at generating proteomic datasets of quality that our community has used as benchmarks for success. She then interacts with these labs to interpret the data. Collaborators that have worked with Genn rarely move on as they are so impressed with the way she manages joint projects and the professionalism that she tackles data production even if it is for other groups. I would like to emphasize that these are huge datasets, and dissecting the biological interpretations from them takes skill, time, and perseverance. These projects would sometimes span years. Thousands of samples and MS data/reports are meticulously prepared and tracked. Often these efforts were initiated and propagated by Genn “without fuss” and in the backdrop of other newsworthy events. However, when they were finally completed, they frequently represented significant newsworthy findings. These success stories would not have been possible without her impeccable management efforts and organizational rigor.

I am often amazed that her tracking methods often allow us to pull up past datasets and generate new reports requested years after their collection. Over the years, collaborators from across the world have commented on how they have never worked with someone as organized, meticulous, and diligent as she. Indeed, current and former members of both my group and labs across campus and the country all comment that she is a major contributor to their scientific training and success – frequently asking themselves “what would Genn do” for this experiment.

Further, without me even realizing it, Genn has been pivotal in the implementation of various efforts to make data publicly accessible for collaborators. While the software engineering portion of my lab has built the infrastructure to share data, because Genn works with so many groups, she is often the go-to person for people trying to figure out how to organize and share data within our framework – often working with professional engineers to bridge and support the needs of the proteomics community.

Tell us why you are nominating this individual

IMPACT through collaboration:

Genn has enabled the collaborative efforts of my lab and, importantly, the collaborative efforts of UW Genome Sciences, and national and international consortia. She coordinated the communication between participants, the distribution of standard samples, and the dissemination of data across platforms. One of the less recognized requirements of large-scale collaborative efforts is management and organization. To quantify her contributions in another way, the total dollar amounts of the projects she has been instrumental in managing and organizing the projects from our lab totalling >$39 million over the 19 years she has been the lab manager in my group. These projects would not have been as successful as they were without Genn’s contribution, and many might not have been possible at all.

1) Yeast Resource Center: The Yeast Resource Center (YRC) was one of the original NIH technology development resource grants with the original PI being Lee Hartwell, followed by Stan Fields, Trisha Davis, and myself. The grant lasted for 25 years until the NIGMS implemented a mandatory sunset period. Overall, this grant had 1,016 publications – a level of productivity that is unparalleled. In the 15 years that my lab was associated with the YRC, Genn was the primary person responsible for supporting collaborations and supporting trainees within our lab. She was a co-author on 17 publications from this resource with many of these being major technological advances in the quantitative proteomics community. Some of the technological advances that she was involved in included the first case of real-time mass spectrometry instrument control (https://doi.org/10.1021/pr800828p), targeted SRM assay development (https://doi.org/10.1021/pr801028b), the original publication for the dual-pressure linear ion trap (https://doi.org/10.1021/ac901278y), the first implementation of multiplexed MS/MS acquisition (https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.2528), performing data independent acquisition on custom ion trap hardware (https://doi.org/10.1007/s13361-014-0981-1), improving the specificity of data independent acquisition using staggered isolation windows (https://doi.org/10.1007/s13361-018-2122-8), and the combination of chromatin biochemical fractionation with quantitative proteomics to study regulatory dynamics (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2020.01.096). Genn also spearheaded the data production of our lab’s first true large scale quantitative proteomics efforts in collaboration with five other labs and one of the best early examples of multiomics (https://doi.org/10.1101/gr.155762.113). In all cases, Genn provided critical expertise and a unique capability to collect data or to provide samples as part of complex experiments. Importantly, Genn provided the interactive conduit to facilitate the interactions between hundreds of people. Her innate ability to communicate and impeccable organizational skills enabled their science to flourish.

What makes this nominee worthy of the DSA?

IMPACT through collaboration:

2) Nathan Shock Center: The University of Washington is fortunate to have one of the NIA funded Nathan Shock Centers for >28 years. Our lab has been responsible for different cores of this center over the last 18 years – originally Functional Genomics, then Proteomics, and now both the Protein and Metabolomics Phenotype Cores. Over the last 10 years, there was a push to improve the accessibility of proteomics and metabolomics capabilities within the aging community. During this time, Genn became the primary contact person for the proteomics needs of our resource. In total, she has been the scientific lead for >25 collaborative projects and to date there are at least 8 publications that she has co-authored from this work – many more publications are in development. Many of these projects have required complex experimental design and production of data from 100s of samples.

3) ModENCODE: Following the success of the original Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project there was a ModENCODE project to extend similar efforts to the nematode C. elegans and fly D. melanogaster. Our lab was part of the effort to characterize the presence of protein coding genes in the worm – one of the original proteogenomics efforts which has now become a buzzword within the scientific community. As part of this effort, Genn was a key participant in providing the mRNA for the transcriptome profiling (https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1196914). She was the first author on an enormous effort to characterize previously unannotated and misannotated protein coding genes (https://doi.org/10.1101/gr.077644.108). As part of this effort, she worked closely with https://wormbase.org/ to adopt a strategy that could make use of proteomics data to improve the annotation of the worm genome. Genn performed intact protein separations with bottom-up proteomics to identify the presence of different proteoforms and worked closely with the Yeast Resource Center informatics group to develop a web interface to share and disseminate these data (https://doi.org/10.1007/s13361-015-1193-z).

4) ICPC (International Cancer Proteogenomics Consortium): At the beginning of the pandemic, our lab was approached by the Director of Proteomics Programs (Henry Rodriguez) at the National Cancer Institute about coordinating a project to evaluate and assess the harmonization of quantitative proteomics data being collected internationally. Genn has coordinated the collection and distribution of samples to >25 institutions in 13 countries. She provided detailed standard operating protocols and example first-rate data for other groups to mimic. She has worked with our lab information technology experts to collect the data from the institutions and work with members of our group to reprocess the data using a common analysis workflow.

Was there anything else?

On a personal level, I would like to add something further. Genn’s background was one filled with adversity. She was the first of her family to go to college, and she has persevered through extreme circumstances. There is no need to go into personal details but suffice it to say that her accomplishments are significantly more impressive because of the challenges she has faced. Furthermore, Genn does not have an advanced degree, not because of ability or ambition, but because of necessity and circumstance. Yet, the people she has impacted range from graduate students to faculty, from department chairs to NIH program officials. She is meticulous and she is never one to say “this is good enough.” This quality has been recognized repeatedly in routine comments from most of our colleagues and collaborators over the years. She has helped so many elevate their respective research programs. She has done so with modesty and a kind and generous attitude that embodies “service.” She just wants to make everything run more smoothly and to enable others to move forward with their respective scientific endeavors.

Gennifer Merrihew is the most deserving person I know of for this award. Anyone who has interacted with her would say the same. Without people like Genn, UW would not be the scientific powerhouse it is today. We are exceptionally fortunate to have her at UW and feel this award would be an enormous recognition of decades of service to the University.

Supplemental information regarding the Collaboration category

Examples of collaboration are detailed throughout the discussion of IMPACT on the prior page.

Supplemental information regarding the Career Achievement category

Genn was first hired at UW on 9/6/2000. She has dedicated 22+ years to the UW community. In that time, she has co-authored 38+ publications, 29 of which involved projects from other labs. This illustrates her scientific contributions, but also her dedication to collaborative interactions with the labs of colleagues across the university, the United States, and the world.

—Michael MacCoss, Professor, Genome Sciences

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