Jason Buenrostro ’09 Wins MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant'
Redwood City native is the first Bronco to receive the prestigious award.
SANTA CLARA, Calif., Oct. 4, 2023—Santa Clara University alumnus Jason D. Buenrostro, Ph.D., has been named a 2023 MacArthur Fellow.
Buenrostro received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering from Santa Clara University in 2009 and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2016. He was subsequently a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows at Harvard University as well as a Broad Institute Fellow from 2016 to 2018. Buenrostro is currently an associate professor in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University and an institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard since 2018. He has published in a variety of leading journals, including Science, Nature, Cell, Nature Genetics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among others.
“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I had as a student at Santa Clara,” said Buenrostro. “Thank you to all my mentors at SCU for supporting and promoting my projects. A special shoutout to the amazing student EMT organization that taught me about leadership.”
Buenrostro’s research focuses on developing methods and technologies that advance our understanding of the mechanisms regulating gene expression. He has developed several new technologies that provide deeper and more detailed views into how and when genes are expressed, or “turned on.” Understanding the variability in gene expression—when, in what physical contexts, and by what mechanisms different genes are turned on—requires detailed characterization of individual cells.
Buenrostro has developed DNA sequencing methods to better understand how spatial context impacts cellular function. Keeping cells in their original locations within tissues allows investigation of how different cell types impact and are impacted by surrounding cells. Buenrostro and colleagues developed slide-DNA-seq, which identifies the spatial location of genetic mutations. In the context of cancerous tumors, slide-DNA-seq gives researchers a better understanding of the unique evolutionary pathways of cancer cells and of potential treatments. Through tool development and his own research, Buenrostro brings researchers closer to deciphering key genetic mechanisms of cell development and cellular function and to understanding their impact on health.
“Jason cut his teeth in molecular biology and genomics as an undergraduate researcher in my plant evolution lab at SCU,” said Dr. Justen B. Whittall, the John Mooring Native Plant Research Endowment Awardee in the Department of Biology. “He co-authored two publications as an undergrad—one on Torrey pine genomics and another using qPCR in arctic mustards. Jason's intellect combined scientific foresight beyond his age and his perseverance was unparalleled. I am grateful to have worked with him at such an early stage in his amazing career.”
“Jason was a motivated, dedicated, and super nice student,” said Craig Stephens, the Sanfilippo Family Professor of Biology and Public Health. Stephens supervised Buenrostro’s senior design project in the School of Engineering. “His hands-on work in our labs is a reflection of the wonderful interaction between students and faculty at Santa Clara.”
Each of the 2023 cohort of MacArthur Fellows will receive an $800,000 stipend, bestowed with no conditions, that awardees can use as they see fit. Awarded annually since 1981, the MacArthur Foundation typically awards 20 to 30 “genius grants” each year to those who have shown exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits. All individuals are nominated anonymously by leaders in their fields and considered by an anonymous selection committee.
“It is with great joy that we extend our heartfelt congratulations to Jason Buenrostro for his remarkable MacArthur Fellows award,” said Santa Clara University President Julie Sullivan. “Your journey from Santa Clara to this prestigious recognition exemplifies the transformative power of Jesuit education. Here's to the indelible mark you've left on our community and the world beyond. We are very proud of you, Jason!”
About the MacArthur Fellows Program
The MacArthur Fellows Program is a five-year grant to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future. The Fellowship is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their own artistic, intellectual, and professional activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements. There are no limits on age or area of activity. Individuals cannot apply for this award; they must be nominated.
About the MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks in building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. More information is available at macfound.org.
About Santa Clara University
Founded in 1851, Santa Clara University sits in the heart of Silicon Valley—the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial region. The University’s stunningly landscaped 106-acre campus is home to the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asís. Ranked among the top 15 percent of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, SCU has among the best four-year graduation rates in the nation and is rated by PayScale in the top 1 percent of universities with the highest-paid graduates. SCU has produced elite levels of Fulbright Scholars as well as four Rhodes Scholars. With undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, and graduate programs in six disciplines, the curriculum blends high-tech innovation with social consciousness grounded in the tradition of Jesuit, Catholic education. For more information see scu.edu.