Broad Institute Cuts Staff

The Eli and Edythe Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard laid off 24 of its MIT employees who handled genetic sequencing last Tuesday citing advances in genetic sequencing technology that have made those jobs obsolete.

The Institute, which was founded through a joint venture of the two institutions in June 2003, announced in a press release that “this move is unrelated to the recent widespread economic problems.” Eli and Edythe Broad recently donated $400 million to the Institute in September 2008.

“Absolutely no lay-offs will take place in the HMS Genetics Dept. as a result of technological advances,” wrote Cliff Tabin, chairman of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, in an e-mail statement. “Indeed new technology will probably mean we need to hire new people to run advanced machines in our cores over time. However we are set up far differently from the Broad.”

Harvard’s genetic sequencing researchers currently hold positions at the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases at the School of Public Health.

Harvard administrators said that the Broad Institute incident is an isolated one, and that advances in genetic sequencing technology will probably not have ripple effects on Harvard employees.

According to the press release, “The rapid evolution of DNA sequencing technologies has required the Broad Institute to transition its genome sequencing efforts from performing high-throughput work on the traditional technologies to actively developing and optimizing the use of next-generation high-throughput sequencing technologies.”

“Since the Broad’s Genome Sequencing Platform originated largely from the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research, the group consists primarily of MIT employees,” said Nicole M. Davis, the institute’s scientific communications specialist.

Dr. Robert Kingston, vice chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology at Harvard Medical School agreed that the layoffs are unique to the Broad.

“There is no technology that I am aware of that has gone through more dramatic changes in technology than DNA sequencing and no one associated with Harvard [as Broad is] has done [anywhere] near the volume [of] sequencing as the Broad,” said Kingston in an e-mail. “So this is more a reflection of this technology and the special situation of the Broad.”

—Staff writer Paul C. Mathis can be reached at pcmathis@fas.harvard.edu.