The Genetic Link

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Article by: Katherine Lawless

Celebrating influential women in genetics - International women's day


Throughout history, women have influenced and shaped our views and knowledge of science from all disciplines, including human genomics. The research of radioactivity by Dr. Marie Curie (1867-1934), the discovery of the XY sex-determination system by Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens (1861-1912), and the co-discovery of the genetic material of life by Dr. Martha Chase (1927-2003), has shaped genomics and the influence of incredible women like these is undeniable.[1] In addition, many feel that much of the credit for modeling the structure of the DNA molecule should rightfully go to a woman named Rosalind Franklin and not Watson and Crick. These women have brought their love of genetics to life and shared their scientific discoveries with the world.

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. We turn the spotlight on some seriously inspiring women starting with the women who work at DNA Genotek. On this International Women’s Day, we are especially thankful for all you do and the impact you have on our success. In addition to recognizing our own inspiring women, we want to celebrate the work and success of a few extraordinary women in the field of genetics.

Dr. Wendy Chung, professor of pediatrics, Columbia University

As a multi-award winning clinical and molecular geneticist specializing in the genetics of birth defects, Dr. Wendy Chung broke through many scientific barriers. She received her B.A in Biochemistry and Economics and later her medical degree from Cornell University, and her PhD in Genetics at Rockefeller University.[2] Dr. Chung directs outstanding NIH funded research programs in the human genetics of birth defects such as congenital diaphragmatic hernia, congenital heart disease, and esophageal atresia, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, pulmonary hypertension, cardiomyopathy, obesity, diabetes, and breast cancer. Her contributions also include the identification of over 25 new genes for human diseases such as, neurodevelopmental disorders (including autism and spinal muscular atrophy), cardiopulmonary conditions (pulmonary hypertension), birth defects (congenital heart disease and congenital diaphragmatic hernia), cancers (breast and pancreatic cancer), cardiomyopathies (arrhythmias), rare inborn errors of metabolism, and other diseases (obesity and diabetes).[3]She is the leader for the precision medicine resource in the Irving Institute at Columbia, where she has published over 300 peer reviewed papers.

In 2018, Dr. Chung received the New York Academy Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Biomedical Science. In 2015, she received the American Society for Clinical Investigation Reward, and in 2008, she received the Medical Achievement Award from Bonei Olam, among many other awards and achievements throughout her illustrious career.[3]

Dr. Piraye Beim, founder, Celmatix

Dr. Piraye Beim had a vision to solve a problem that affected women from all over the world: fertility. According to Fortune Magazine, about 7 million women in the U.S face difficulties in conceiving a baby. In the past, doctors took into account factors such as age but Dr. Beim founded a company that created an algorithm that compares databases of millions of women who have fertility issues to a patient’s fertility data and personal health. This company is called Celmatix.[4] She founded the company in 2009 to fulfill her goal to empower women to be more informed and proactive about their fertility via the power of genomic data. Dr. Beim strived to bring personalized medicine to reproductive health, and brought her experience with her doctoral work at MSKCC/Weill Cornell (NYC) and her postdoctoral work in embryology research training at the University of Cambridge (UK), which afterwards inspired her to create the company.

Dr. Beim has also been widely recognized as a rising business leader and was named among the top female founders by TechCrunch, Crain’s 40 under 40, top 15 founders disrupting their industries by fortune and more.[5]

Dr. Fatme Al Anouti, Assistant Dean at Zayed University and Dr. Habiba Al Safar, Director of Khalifa University Center for Biotechnology

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, affecting millions of people. Dr. Fatme Al Anouti and Dr. Habiba Al Safar sought to solve this problem through their co-discovery of the link between vitamin D and diabetes.[6] She is an associate professor and assistant dean of the college of natural and health sciences (CNHS) at the Zayed University in UAE. She received her PhD in clinical Biochemistry at the University of Windsor in 2005 and currently researches into the biochemical and genetic basis of Vitamin D deficiency among UAE nationals.[7]

In 2018, Dr. Anouti collaborated with Dr. Habiba Al Safar from Khalifa University and tested about 300 Emirati diabetics and non diabetics. They found that the certain forms of the vitamin D receptor (VDR) gene were linked to increase diabetic risk. She was awarded the Abu Dhabi Medical Distinction Awarded for her research. [6],[7]

Anne Wojcicki, CEO, 23andMe

Another extraordinary woman in genetics is Anne Wojcicki, the founder and current CEO of 23andMe. In 1996, she received a B.S. degree in Biology at the University of Yale, and later worked as a researcher and investment analyst.[8] She worked on Wall Street for biotech-focused investment firms for 10 years saw the need to empower consumers to take control of their own health. This passion lead to the creation of 23andMe with co-founder Linda Avery.

Anne’s goals were to give consumers better access to their own health information and to collect as much of the world’s genetic information as possible for research focused on solving health problems.[9]

Today she and her team have impacted the lives of millions with the power of their own genetic knowledge.


The discoveries and successes these women have brought to the field of genetics are inspiring. All women involved in sciences today have left their footprint in the scientific community. Today, on International Women’s Day, we are happy to share the stories of these amazing women in genetics. 

Related Blogs: In Celebration of International Women’s Day: 8 Inspirational Female Scientists 

Request free trial kits of any DNA Genotek saliva kit


[1] Carpenter, E. In Celebration of International Women’s Day: 8 Inspirational Female Scientists. DNA Genotek. Mar 8, 2018.



[4] Rao L. “This Entrepreneur is Using Big Data to Help More Women Get Pregnant.” Fortune Magazine. Web. 18, Feb 2016.



[7]Bardsley D. “Emirati gene linked to diabetes, research reveals.” The National UAE. Health. 29 Sept 2018. 

[8] Rogers K. “Anne Wojcicki: American Entrepreneur.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. Web. 3 May 2017.

[9] Kudievskaia E. “23andMe and Anne Wojcicki: Using DNA Data to Transform Health Care.” Distillery Tech. Medium Corp. 22 Mar, 2018.

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