Dr. Sue Biggins is director of the Basic Sciences Division, an affiliate professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. In her lab, she studies one of biology’s most fundamental processes: how cells sort chromosomes, the long molecules in which DNA is packaged. When chromosomes sort, or segregate, improperly, cellular processes go awry. Cells with too many or too few chromosomes can cause cancer, birth defects, or miscarriage.
Biggins led the first team to isolate the kinetochore, the large molecular machine that coordinates chromosome segregation. The ability to study this key molecular complex in test tubes paved the way for critical new findings, including the role that tension plays in chromosome sorting. Biggins is now working to understand more about how kinetochores form and how they work.
The region of the chromosome to which the kinetochore attaches is called the centromere. Her research also focuses on how cells maintain the location and unique molecular characteristics of the centromere during cellular processes including cell division.
Biggins received her Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton University and conducted her postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco. She joined the Fred Hutch faculty in 2000 and served as associate director of the Basic Sciences Division from 2009 to 2018. In 2015 she was selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
Biggins has served on numerous national scientific committees and review groups, including the Next Generation of Science committee of the National Academy of Sciences, which aims to improve science for early stage investigators in the U.S. She has also been actively involved in editing for scientific journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Cell Biology, Genetics and PLOS Genetics. She is currently a member of the Coalition of Life Sciences, a national alliance that fosters policies to promote research in the US.
She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the Washington State Academy of Sciences, and is a fellow of the American Society of Cell Biology. Her awards include the 2015 Edward Novitski Prize from the Genetics Society of America and the 2013 National Academy of Sciences Molecular Biology Award.