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Stars of Stanford Medicine: In love with the microbiome

This Stars of Stanford Medicine Q&A features Fiona Tamburini, a graduate student who studies the microbiome.

After growing up and attending college in the Northeast, Fiona Tamburini headed to sunny California in 2014 to work toward her PhD in genetics. A member of the lab of Ami Bhatt, MD, PhD, Tamburini is downright fascinated with the bacteria who live inside the human body. I spoke with her to learn more.

Why did you go into science?

When I was little, I thought science was really cool — my dad worked for a pharmaceutical company — but I had no idea what it was really about. As an undergrad, I took chemistry and biology classes and realized I really did like it.

What are you working on today?

I'm working on a lung sample from a patient who had pneumonia. I'm examining DNA sequences to learn more about the lung microbiome, or bacteria that live in the respiratory tract.

What is your ultimate career goal?

I want to understand the genetic interactions between microbial pathogens and the human body. I'm not sure if I want to stay in academia or work for the private sector. I'm sure there will be a lot of exciting opportunities when I'm done.

Do you have a favorite scientist?

I've had the opportunity to hear several great speakers: Eric Lander, PhD, from the Broad Institute; genomics pioneer Craig Venter, PhD and Michael Fischbach, PhD, from the University of California, San Francisco. And of course Stanford's own Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, and Ami [Bhatt].

How do you unwind?

I'm doing a lot of hiking. I run. I'm learning to cook. I made sushi the other day, and I've made falafels and hummus from scratch. I enjoy novels and reading about the microbiome.

What are you listening to now?

I listen to a lot of music and podcasts from the sciences or humanities. On the lab bench, we went back to the 1990s and listened to all of the episodes of This American Life. I also really like Only Human, about the human body -- when it works and when it doesn't.

What are you watching?

I've been going back with a friend and watching "Arrested Development." My guilty pleasure is binge watching "Girls" on HBO.

What is the best trip you've taken?

I'm aggressively trying to do and see all the sights in the Bay Area and northern California. Driving down Highway 1 to Los Angeles was great. I love the elephant seals!

What do your colleagues not know about you?

I'm really, really into The Lord of the Rings.

Stars of Stanford Medicine is a new series introducing readers to standout scholars in the School of Medicine.

Previously: Stars of Stanford Medicine: In pursuit of the "Aha!" discoveries
Photo by Alyssa Tamboura

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