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BRIDGEPORT, Pa. — Former Johns Hopkins University men’s water polo athlete Seth Berke ’23 is living a Platonic life as the four-time Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) All-Academic selection and Blue Jays’ captain is making a name for himself in the field of genomics.

Centuries ago, Plato noted that, “he who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much a savage. He who is a scholar only is too soft, to effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar athlete, the man of thought and the man of action.”

A native of Boca Raton, Fla., and a graduate of Saint Andrew’s School where he racked up 413 goals, 120 assists and 136 steals during four Most Valuable Player (MVP) seasons, Berke is building upon his time as a scholar-athlete to become a man of thought and action that will impact the fields of medicine and genomics for decades to come.

A December 2023 honors Molecular and Cellular Biology graduate from Johns Hopkins, he compiled 40 goals, 31 assists, 38 ejections drawn, 17 field blocks and 27 steals during three seasons in Baltimore (the 2020 season was lost to the COVID-19 outbreak).

However, his most important contributions at the institution – for the long term of mankind – came out of the water and in front of a keyboard.

Working with biostatistician Ingo Ruczinski, he helped develop more efficient methods of employing and gaining insight from preexisting data sets utilizing cloud computing methods to analyze genomic data.

Many genomic databases operate under the FAIR Data Principles. FAIR data must be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. While these FAIR databases exist — including many operated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — it can be difficult to meaningfully access them due to a variety of complications. Berke’s focus has been on developing cloud pathways capable of wrestling with this complexity.

The challenges posed by data storage and metadata necessitate the usage of cloud-based technologies over local analysis. Working with CAVATICA — a genomics cloud computing platform funded in part by the NIH — Berke has imported code and raw data into the cloud, analyzed it and retrieved results.

The research provides a general means of analyzing genomic data, not simply an answer to a particular question. The same analytical tools can be employed to study cancer, cystic fibrosis or any other genetically linked condition.

“While the phenotype that we are doing is orofacial clefs, our lab is more of a methods or a feasibility lab focused on harnessing these resources… There are huge translational and medical applications to all this work so if you’re able to go in and analyze data that already exists, you can potentially lead the way for new treatments and then translate it into actual applicable medical findings,” Berke said. 

Berke was first drawn to Ruczinski’s lab due to the specific focus on orofacial clefts. As a pre-dental student, he hoped to get involved in any dental research taking place at Hopkins. However, as he got involved in the project and began considering the role that science may play in his life moving forward, Berke realized that the dental path no longer was able to offer him everything he needed. Having graduated in December 2023, Berke now hopes to pursue a PhD in genomics.

Part of the rationale behind this shift in direction was seeing the immediacy and impact of scientific work firsthand. In doing so, he realized the impact that researchers have on the medical field as a whole.

“In school, you learn broadly about research and about science, but when you’re actually in a lab, you understand how it translates into the real world. The biggest thing when I first started was that, ‘Wow, these findings will be sent to a journal that can be read by geneticists, by dentists, by people interested in this area of research, and it could contribute to an actual cause,’” he said. “I shifted my way of learning from the broad to how to impact the world. What skills do I have to help?” 

Among this exploration was the opportunity to present a research poster at the 2023 International Genetic Epidemiology Society Conference in Nashville, Tenn. This opportunity enabled him to directly engage with cutting-edge work across the genomics world.

He recently has opportunity to participate in The National Institutes of Health‘s Common Fund Data Ecosystem (CFDE) All Hand’s Conference to present the lab’s successful use case in harnessing Common Fund data for biomedical discovery.

Scholar.  Leader.  Athlete.  Seth Berke has scored a hat-trick at Johns Hopkins and will seek to make his life of word and action one that will benefit mankind now and into the future.


Collegiate Water Polo Association