Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics

Our primary focus is the analysis of genomes and gene expressions, and our investigations span the continuum from the genotypes to phenotypes.

Evolutionary Medicine is an emerging discipline at the intersection of medicine, genomics, and evolution. It uses evolutionary knowledge to identify functionally important parts of genomes and to predict functional consequences of variations in populations and individuals. By pursuing integrated computer analytical (in silico) and experimental biological approaches, we are making it feasible to evaluate the importance of different parts of the genome and infer the origins and propagation of genetic mutations, with the goal of translating this information in order to ease human suffering and treat disease.

We are an interdisciplinary group of scientists and engineers who are working toward a goal of solving longstanding challenges in evolution and medicine. Our primary focus is the analysis of genomes and gene expressions, and our investigations span the continuum from the genotypes to phenotypes. We specialize in large-scale, high-throughput data analysis. In these endeavors, we develop new statistical methods and computational algorithms to discover patterns and test predictions, in addition to making fundamental biological discoveries.

Genomics is changing medicine in ways that were unthinkable a few years ago. A decade-long genome revolution has made it possible to envision the personalization of medical care, and the identification of new targets for treating and controlling infectious agents. These developments have prompted much excitement and offered the promise of a future with better health. It will soon become economically feasible for each of us to gain access to our full DNA blueprint. We can now begin to ask: How does my genetic makeup differ from that of others? How will these differences impact my health in the future? And, what does my genome foretell about the likelihood of disease or response to treatment?

The knowledge of one’s DNA sequence does not automatically tell us about the susceptibility to disease or response to a given drug regimen. Individual genomes are vast, consisting of 3 billion DNA bases and containing millions of small and large variations. Similarly, even relatively simple organisms such as viruses and bacteria contain an abundance of genetic diversity, which enables them to evolve to evade therapeutics and adapt. Translating these DNA data into medically useful information presents a new grand challenge in basic biomedicine. A thorough understanding of human and pathogen genomes is an essential first step in this endeavor.

Currently, we are engaged in research and developments in personal genomics, tree of life, molecular phylogenetics, and developmental evolution. In each case, we are conducting comparative analysis of genomes and of gene expressions to identify patterns in nature and processes that produce them. Alongside scientific discoveries, we are building bioinformatics software and knowledge-bases to facilitate scientific investigations at large (MEGA: www.megasoftware.net; TimeTree: www.timetree.org; FlyExpress: www.flyexpress.net).