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Spotlight: For Bioinformaticist Sierra Miller, the Scientific Breakthrough Is Hidden in the Data

Sierra Miller sits at a desk facing a computer screen.
Credit: R. Wilson/NIST

Sometimes, the scientific breakthrough isn’t an “aha” moment in a lab; it’s hidden in the data produced by the experiment. For NIST researcher Sierra Miller, that data is a treasure trove. 

Sierra works in bioinformatics — a field that uses data to interpret information in biology and medical research. Her work is mostly focused on data for research in genome editing. Our cells naturally repair our DNA when it becomes damaged. Genome-editing technology uses this natural process to introduce changes to DNA to treat a certain medical condition. 

So, when researchers at NIST (and elsewhere) edit genomes, Sierra creates high-quality datasets from the results of that editing process. This helps researchers get the most information they can out of their experiments. For example, if a researcher is testing a new tool, they have a high-quality dataset to use as a control in their experiments. 

That’s critical because genome editing has life-altering potential for people with many illnesses, such as sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease physically changes a red blood cell’s shape, impacting its ability to carry oxygen. Genome editing is effective in treating this condition because it repairs the DNA to restore the cell’s ability to carry oxygen. 

Sierra loves tackling problems with a systematic approach, and systematic problem-solving is exactly what we do here at NIST.

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Released May 13, 2024, Updated May 16, 2024