People Profiles

Steven Jones, MSc, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

October 02, 2015

It was the early 1990s and while most of the world was marveling over the jpgs and text docs they could download through that amazing new thing called the World Wide Web, Dr. Steven Jones was focused on an entirely different kind of data: DNA.

Jones is the Associate Director and Head of Bioinformatics at Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre and was named one of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds of 2014 by Thomson Reuters. He completed an MSc in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at SFU in 1994.

“I have always been intrigued by how DNA stores information, how much information is stored, and how much it takes to create an organism like a human,” he says.

These days, Jones is using his long-standing fascination with the famous double helix to combat one of our most urgent genetic mysteries: cancer.

In his role with the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, Jones leads a team which uses computational tools to sequence DNA genomes. Specifically, their work focuses on the mutations and other DNA arrangements that lead to the formation of cancer. By understanding tumors’ molecular biology, Jones explains, researchers can then define more effective cancer treatments.

“Two tumors might look the same under the microscope but can have radically different DNA. This is important from a treatment perspective because they won’t respond the same,” he says.

Jones’ work uncovering, as he put it, "what’s’ under the hood" isn’t limited to understanding cancer, but also viruses—as demonstrated in the the 2003-2004 world SARS outbreak.

“Our team was the first to sequence the SARS virus. Before that no one had any idea what the disease was. The discovery not only allowed the medical community to develop an immunization vaccine but reassured people that it was a known quantity, something that we could handle,” he says.

An internationally recognized leader in the health and genetics fields, Jones points to his SFU graduate school experience as helping him get there.

“SFU was on the cutting edge in the field of genetics. At the time I did my master’s degree, ours was one of the few biology labs that had high-powered computer equipment. It was a great opportunity to do original research. I still apply today the computation skills and knowledge of genetics that I learned during my graduate program,” he says.

Author: Jackie Amsden

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