DNA Screening Mechanism Technical Consultant, Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative

The Nuclear Threat Initiative is seeking consultant(s) with bioinformatics and software development skills to serve as DNA Screening Mechanism Technical Consultants.  NTI is open to hiring one consultant skilled in both bioinformatics and software development – or hiring multiple consultants to satisfy the desired skillsets.

NTI is a non-profit whose mission is to transform global security by driving systemic solutions to nuclear and biological threats imperiling humanity.

The NTI | bio team’s mission is to reduce biological risk and enhance global biosecurity. We are working toward this goal by: promoting concrete actions to reduce risks posed by advances in biotechnology; identifying gaps in the capacity of individual countries to mitigate high-consequence biological events and motivating governments and other stakeholders to fill them; developing novel approaches for curbing potential catastrophic outcomes from a high-consequence biological event; and working to strengthen national biosecurity capacity in countries around the world.

Background and Context for this consulting opportunity:  Access to synthetic DNA is critical for advances in the life sciences. However, as the cost of DNA declines and it becomes more widely available, the risk of nefarious or accidental misuse of DNA to construct or engineer pathogens or toxins increases. In 2020, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the World Economic Forum convened an international Technical Consortium on DNA Synthesis Screening and launched an effort to develop an international common mechanism for DNA synthesis screening. Based on specifications from the Technical Consortium, work is underway to develop a bioinformatic sequence screening pipeline to flag synthetic DNA sequences that match pathogen or toxin DNA.

This is a remote consulting position.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities:

The DNA Screening Mechanism Technical Consultant(s) will directly support NTI staff and work closely with the Technical Consortium and its subordinate working groups to develop an international common mechanism for synthetic DNA sequence screening.

This will include supporting a team working on the development of a database of DNA sequences of concern, software for identifying DNA sequences from regulated pathogens, and parameters for flagging those sequences for further investigation. The software must be able to manage and process very large quantities of data in an efficient and reliable manner. Key challenges include ensuring that this bioinformatic pipeline accurately incorporates current scientific understanding, makes use of state-of-the-art bioinformatic approaches, and is robust to a wide range of use cases and subversion attempts.

Responsibilities include (but are not limited to):

  • Keeping up-to-date with current techniques for the analysis of microbial sequence data; seeking new data analysis tools that can be readily applied to synthetic DNA screening; discussing data analysis approaches within and outside the team
  • Assisting with the development of a sequence screening bioinformatic pipeline and database of sequences of concern
  • Assisting with the development of an accelerated sequence search strategy
  • Packaging the bioinformatic pipeline as software for DNA synthesis companies to use
  • Quantitatively evaluating the performance of the bioinformatic pipeline
  • Red-team, stress testing the software
  • Communicating results through relevant means, such as reports and presentations at scientific meetings or to international audiences with mixed expertise.

Minimum Qualifications and Desired Skills:

  • Excellent communication skills, ability to interact with international collaborators and across a multi-disciplinary team to develop and maintain good working relationships

For Bioinformatics: 

  • PhD or significant expertise in microbial genomics, bioinformatics, computational biology, or a related discipline
  • Familiarity with essential bioinformatics software tools (e.g. BLAST, bowtie2, mash, Kraken2, HMMER)
  • Experience in the management and analysis of large datasets
  • Experience in working with microbial genomic data
  • Experience in identifying virulence determinants in pathogens or identifying the function of genetic elements
  • Experience in writing bioinformatic tools and developing novel approaches to the analysis of large genomic datasets

For Software Development:

  • Experience with developing effective, interactive user interfaces
  • Experience in optimizing the speed and performance of software

The above is intended to describe the general content of and requirements for the performance of this job. It is not to be construed as an exhaustive statement of essential functions, responsibilities or requirements.

This announcement is open to fill an independent consulting position(s), not a staff employee (no benefits package available).  This consultant contract is available for 6-12 months, with flexibility on the percentage of time spent on this project.  Pay commensurate with background and experience.

To apply

For consideration, please forward a resume to Greg Butchello ([email protected]) and Chris Isaac ([email protected]). Subject line should read: NTI BIO DNA Screening Mechanism Technical Consultant. Position will remain open until filled. Early application encouraged.

NTI is proud to be an equal opportunity employer and encourages people of all background and identities to apply. All applicants will be considered without attention to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, political affiliation, genetic information, disability, or any other quality or circumstance protected by Federal or D.C. law.

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