Unlocking genetic mysteries focus of UH symposium


Biology meets computer science to address evolutionary, human health challenges

HOUSTON, April 1, 2005 Biologists and computer scientists are coming together at the University of Houston to explore the mysteries of genetic material and its potential for leading to advances in evolutionary biology and human health. The event is free and open to the public.

A daylong symposium Computational Molecular Biology: The Future will address these "new" collaborations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 4, at the Hilton UH Hotel. Here, UH researchers in biology and computer science will continue their quest to form collaborations to create custom-designed computer programs and algorithms to analyze different portions of genomes an organism's genetic material.

"We are in the midst of a new revolution, a new synthesis between biology and computer science," said Stuart Dryer, chair of the department of biology and biochemistry. "It's been said that our history is written in our genes, and that's a very complex book we are reading that requires new methods of understanding, new collaborations."

By performing detailed analyses of genetic material and answering questions related to how the genome is organized, how it changes over time and how genes move from one organism to another, scientists can find solutions to problems such as bacterial resistance to antibiotics a common concern in hospitals where bacteria share close space with the drugs used to destroy them and species extinction and other issues of conservation biology.

"To put this in perspective, genomes can be described as texts written in biochemical letters, called nucleotides, that are devoid of punctuation marks or any other annotations," said Dan Graur, the John and Rebecca Moores professor of biology and biochemistry at UH. "The human genome, for instance, consists of approximately 3.5 billion letters and is estimated to contain about 25,000 genes, or protein coding sentences, and an unknown number of regulatory elements. Given that the world is inhabited by about 50 million animal and plant species and an unknown number of microbes, scientists are and will continue to be confronted with vast amounts of genetic information that is unapproachable by traditional methods of scientific inquiry. We are attempting to meet this challenge at this UH symposium."

Hosted by the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the symposium will feature a variety of speakers in addition to Graur. Also representing UH are George Fox, professor of biology and biochemistry; Yuriy Fofanov, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry and computer science; and Ricardo Azevedo, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry. Other notable presenters are Janet Siefert from Rice University, Hideki Innan from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Paul Havlak from Baylor College of Medicine, Laura Landweber from Princeton University, David Sankoff from the University of Ottawa, and Harmen Bussemaker from Columbia University.

Presentations will range from topics on sexual reproduction in artificial gene networks to identifying bacteria on microbes. The day will conclude with a roundtable discussion moderated by Graur. For a complete list of presentation topics and additional information, visit http://www.bioinfo.uh.edu/CMB05/.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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