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ASHG Honors Janina Jeff, PhD, with Its $10,000 Advocacy Award for Producing Hip-Hop Inspired Podcast That Uses Genetics to Uncover Lost Identities of African-Descended Americans Through Lens of Black Culture

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named Janina Jeff, PhD, MS, as the 2020 recipient of the Society’s Advocacy Award (https://www.ashg.org/membership/awards/advocacy/). Dr. Jeff is the host and executive producer of “In Those Genes,” described as “a hip-hop inspired podcast that uses genetics to uncover the lost identities of African descended Americans through the lens of Black Culture.” See sample podcast at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BldybNBDqv0. Dr. Jeff is a Senior Scientist at Illumina, a company at the intersection of biology and technology. This award, which includes a plaque with a $10,000 prize, honors individuals or groups who have exhibited excellence and achievement in applications of human genetics for the common good, in areas such as facilitating public awareness of genetics issues, promoting funding for biomedical research, and integrating genetics into health systems. “Dr. Janina Jeff’s groundbreaking podcast ‘In Those Genes’ has provided fundamental insight into genetics and the exploration of the lost identities of African-descended Americans through the lens of Black culture,” said ASHG President Anthony Wynshaw-Boris, MD, PhD. “She is also an inspiring leader with a deep commitment to educating others and is a very important spokesperson in human genetics for a wider audience beyond scientists.” “In the wake of COVID-19, the podcast has quickly evolved as a forum dispensing scientific and medical truths and dispelling rumors and conspiracy theories circulating in the Black community on social media,” said Dana Crawford, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Population and Quantitative Health Services, Case Western University, in her nomination letter. Dr. Crawford concludes her nomination letter by noting that “’In Those Genes’ addresses issues of direct interest to a group often neglected in general science or genealogy podcasts: the Black audience. So far, in its first season, ‘In Those Genes’ has discussed direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing and genetic ancestry estimates, comparisons of Black-owned DTC genetic testing companies, Ancestry.com’s romanticization of genetic ancestry and slavery, and participation in the All of Us Research Program, among other topics related to genetics. All of this is done with Black and current cultural references that effectively explain complex definitions and jargon.”

By honoring the “In Those Genes” podcast, the ASHG also honors the members of the team behind the production, including:

--Lead Producer: Sam Riddell
--Creative Director: Chris Diggins
--Music Producer and Audio Engineer: Chad Milner
--Sociologist: Saida Grundy, PhD
--Consultant: Stevan Smith

Th ASHG congratulates everyone on the team for their efforts to shine a spotlight on these important issues!

Dr. Jeff is the first African American to graduate with a PhD in Human Genetics from Vanderbilt University. She also received a Master’s degree in Applied Statistics from Vanderbilt University and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Spelman College.

After her PhD, Dr. Jeff pursued postdoctoral training in the labs of Eimear Kenny, PhD, and Erwin Bottinger, MD, at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Her research career was focused on population genetics, specifically studying complex and admixed populations (descendants with African ancestry) and discovering population-specific genetic risk factors of common disease.

The launch of her podcast, “In Those Genes,” won Spotify’s Sounds Up Bootcamp. Episodes can be found on Spotify, Apple, and all major podcasting apps.

OFFICIAL PRESENTATION OF AWARD

Announcement of Dr. Jeff’s award selection was made on July 13 and the official presentation of the award will take place during the ASHG’s upcoming virtual annual meeting (Oct 27-30) (https://www.ashg.org/meetings/2020meeting/).

ABOUT THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF HUMAN GENETICS (ASHG)

Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. Its nearly 8,000 members include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses, and others with an interest in human genetics. The Society serves scientists, health professionals, and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the ASHG Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics; (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students, and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information, visit: http://www.ashg.org

[ASHG Press release] [ASHG 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting][ASHG Press release] [Sample Podcast]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BldybNBDqv0