With water up to his waist, Nathan Bivens is in his element fly fishing as he waits for a trout to grab onto the end of his line.
Bivens picked up this hobby growing up in his hometown of Cassville, which is also where his path to the Bond Life Sciences Center began. The DNA Core Director is the kind of person who will always be there when others need him.
“I really enjoy working with a variety of researchers across campus,” Bivens said. “My role and work in a core facility allow me to interact with hundreds of researchers…And they’re just doing some great science.”
Leaving southwest Missouri in 1990, Bivens went to MU to get his bachelor’s in molecular biology. After completing his master’s at the University of Illinois in 1997, he applied to the university’s Center for Comparative and Functional Genomics to coordinate high throughput DNA sequencing projects.
Two years later, he and his wife moved back to Columbia. After working as a senior research specialist and associate director at MU, Bivens became the DNA Core Director in 2018.
The DNA Core facility is an institutional resource to educate and assist researchers in the use of sequencing technologies. Its services employ revolutionary advances in next-generation DNA sequencing to enable the sequencing of genomes and transcriptomes from whole organisms down to a single cell.
“Twenty-five years ago, when I started doing this, the technology was completely different,” Bivens said. “I’ve seen technologies come and go, but it’s always exciting because I have the opportunity to learn something new. It keeps my mind active.”
The genomics revolution has promoted the development of the technologies currently used to answer today’s research questions. Short-read sequencing platforms now provide billions of sequences in a single run at a fraction of the cost of previous technologies, which drives the discoveries being realized in the fields of personal genomics and basic research.
Many scientists rely on the DNA Core to help advance their research.
“In this position, I have the opportunity to interact with many different folks on a daily basis,” Bivens said. “It’s always helpful, and I enjoy that.”
Even beyond clients and collaborators, Bivens helps others with his time, knowledge and advice.
“Nathan is one of the wisest people I know,” said Sam Bish, senior technology transfer manager in the Technology Advancement Office. “He’s very soft-spoken, doesn’t talk himself up and puts others first.”
Before Bish realized they worked in the same building, he first met Bivens at the Open Door Church more than six years ago. At the time, Bivens was a deacon at their church and now serves as pastor of the church.
“He’s someone that I often go to for advice, mainly about life, but for work as well,” Bish said. “I trust that he’s not going to lead me down a path that he wouldn’t go down himself, meaning that he’s not out for his own personal gain. He’s only looking to help me.”
Another big part of Bivens’ life is his family. He spends a lot of his time taking his daughter to her volleyball practices and volunteering as a line judge during games. He and his wife even help her with her small cake business.
“The thing I admire in Nathan most is how good he is as a parent to his daughter,” Bish said. “She didn’t become an amazing baker and cook on her own, but he and his wife saw that was her interest and they’ve poured in resources to help her grow in that area.”
Looking back at the past 25 years, Bivens appreciates the work he’s done both in and out of the lab.
“I know many of our researchers feel that the core facilities are an asset to the work they do and that they do view us as essential for research at MU,” Bivens said. “So that, to me, gives me a sense of pride.”
Whether it’s help on a genomics project or parenting advice, Bivens knows how to be there.