Lynn Jorde and Kristi Russell

DISCOVERY: A TEAM EFFORT Students work with renowned U scientists to push the boundaries of genetic research.

For most people, a doctorate in human genetics isn’t a fallback career. But when Kristi Russell injured her hip as a tennis player at Weber State University, she says the injury changed the course of her education and profession.

She asked her doctor, “Why would this happen to someone so young?” The doctor’s response: sports and genetics. “That really piqued my interest in human genetics,” she says. Although she was always a self-described science nerd and was studying microbiology, the discovery that hip dysplasia may run in her family was a catalyst for her to better understand genetics.

Now a grad student at the U, Russell says she’s grateful to study with some of the field’s leading researchers. After all, she works directly with the U’s chair of human genetics, Lynn Jorde, who has authored more than 250 scientific papers and holds one of the most prestigious grants available to genetics researchers.

Among other things, Russell and Jorde are trying to understand the genetic mutations that cause Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as ALS). They’ve already uncovered two genes that contribute to the disease. And with each new gene discovered, potential new treatments can be found, says Jorde.

Their work leverages the Utah Population Database (UPDB), the world’s largest genetic database, with information on more than 10 million individuals. Through the UPDB, U researchers have identified genes and risk factors for more than 30 conditions.

“Science is not easy. It’s mostly disappointing. But once in a while, we’re rewarded with a real pathbreaking discovery. And those are the times that keep us going.”



Shannon McNatt is no stranger to rigorous training. The U senior and NCAA regional beam champion gymnast spends more than 20 hours training each week preparing for competition. And her dedication in the gym is paralleled in her coursework. She’s in one of the David S. Eccles School of Business’ most demanding majors, Quantitative Analysis […]

Learn More


Utah is at the heart of many recent environmental debates, ranging from national parks and water to land use and air quality. These crucial issues can seem impossibly complex, and finding solutions requires collaboration and creativity. Here are just two of many researchers exploring these topics from different perspectives. A cultural perspective: The data is […]

Learn More


Sayro Paw was 12 when she arrived in Utah from the Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand. She recalls being totally overwhelmed by the language and cultural differences. “I didn’t know how to communicate with anyone,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone at school, and I couldn’t do homework.” Gradually things improved for Paw, especially […]

Learn More


Derek Young BS’18 grew up in a town with just nine stoplights. And when he came to study biology at the U, the number of students was more than three times the population of his hometown, Price, Utah. While he was excited to be around other people who were passionate about learning, and he liked […]

Learn More


Whitney Bitner BS’18 started chemotherapy just three days before her senior year at the U. The math and statistics major had been diagnosed with nodular sclerosis classical Hodgkin lymphoma after she noticed a lump on her neck while vacationing with her family at Lake Powell. “It was just like, ‘How can this have happened?’ ” […]

Learn More


Service is in Daniela des Islets’ blood. Her father was an infantry officer in the Honduran military, and she’s been deployed with the U.S. Air Force twice, once in Afghanistan and once in Qatar. And now she’s studying biology, chemistry, and Spanish at the U, with plans to go on to medical school. “I wanted […]

Learn More

Leave a Comment

Comments are moderated, so there may be a slight delay before approved comments are posted. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).