Women's Activism NYC

Georgia Mae Dunston

1944 - Today

By: Abigail Wilson | Date Added:

Georgia Mae Dunston is a professor of human immunogenetics at Howard University and founding director of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University. She was born in Norfolk, Virginia as a part of a working-class family. Attending an all-black school, Dunston noted that even though the resources were thin, her teachers were dedicated, and their encouragement compensated for other disparities. Dunston graduated among the top five students in her high school class and was awarded a full scholarship to attend Norfolk State University. She graduated in 1965 and quickly began looking for a position as a medical technician but faced racial discrimination to the extent that she was unable to obtain a job.  Her biology mentor from college encouraged Dunston to apply to graduate school which led Dunston to Tuskegee University, where she obtained a M.S. in biology in 1967. In 1972, upon graduating from University of Michigan, Georgia became the first African American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in human genetics. Howard University hired her on as an assistant professor that year. From 1975 to 1976, Dunston undertook a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, alongside her faculty position, focusing on tumor immunology. She later served as a scientist there in an immunodiagnosis lab that was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health. At Howard, Dunston was appointed director of the human immunogenetics laboratory in 1985. At this time, she focused her research on diseases that are common in the black community as well as genes and immune reactions that are unique to African American populations. From 1991 to 1994, Dunston served as associate director of the Division of Basic Sciences at Howard University Cancer Center. She was promoted to full professor in the Department of Microbiology at Howard in 1993 and became chair of the department in 1998. Inspired by the Human Genome Project, begun in 1990, Dunston focused her attention on the genetic heritage of the African American population. Dunston’s work in human genetics and diversity resulted in her founding the National Human Genome Center at Howard in 2001. Dunston’s research not only helped to explain differences among people, it also demonstrated how strikingly similar each human is. Dunston founded and directed the NHGC with an “unprecented leadership” team at Howard University. Dunston and her team, at the NHGC and Howard University, built a national and international research collaboration focusing on the genetics of diseases common in African Americans and other African diaspora populations. Dunston is the recipient of several awards including the Howard University College of Medicine Outstanding Research Award, NAACP Science Achievement Award and the Howard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Graduate Faculty Member Award. She has been a member of the National Advisory Council for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Sigma Xi and the National Academy of Sciences Review Committee on Human Genome Diversity Project. She lives in Washington, D.C. As a full professor at Howard University, Dunston and her group’s current research is centered on the exploitation of the power of population diversity in quantifying the information content of the human genome.

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