Challenges and Opportunities in Computational Biology: Interpreting the human genome

Thursday, October 19, 2006 - 7:00pm
Manolis Kellis, MIT CSAIL and the Broad Institute

With the completion of the human genome, the challenge of interpreting the 3 billion letters that encode a human being has put computational biology at the center stage of biomedical research. Comparative genomics of multiple mammalian species has emerged as one of the most powerful and systematic ways to identify the functional elements encoded in the human genome, by virtue of their conservation across millions of years of evolution. These elements are subtle and hidden in millions of non-functional nucleotides, requiring new techniques to decipher them and to understand their roles across diverse experimental and functional datasets. In this talk, I will cover how comparative genomes of multiple closely related species can be used to systematically interpret the human genome, and in particular for the de-novo discovery of genes, regulatory motifs, microRNAs, gene targets, and enhancer elements. By studying the conservation properties of known functional elements, we define evolutionary signatures, specific to each type of functional element and dictated by the precise selective constraints that it evolves under. We have successfully applied such approaches to study multiple fungal, fly, and mammalian genomes, refining the annotation of existing elements and revealing hundreds of new functional elements. In addition, comparative genomics has enabled us to study the evolutionary dynamics of genomes, gene families, and regulatory motifs, and their role in the emergence of new gene functions.

Lecturer Biography: 

Manolis Kellis is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at MIT, a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Prof. Kellis holds the Distinguished Alumnus (1964) Career Development Professorship at MIT. He was selected by Technology Review magazine as one of 35 top young innovators in science and technology in 2006, for his research in genomics. He was also recognized as one of three young scientists representing the next generation in biotechnology by the Museum of Science. Prof. Kellis research interests are in computational biology, and in particular the areas of genome interpretation, comparative genomics, gene regulation, and genome evolution. He has also been instrumental in helping to develop MIT's emerging curriculum in bio-CS, and has developed a new undergraduate course in algorithmic aspects of computational biology, and a graduate-level course on Computational Biology: Genomes, Networks, Evolution. He obtained his Ph.D. from MIT, where he received the Sprowls award for the best doctorate thesis in computer science, and the first Paris Kanellakis graduate fellowship. Prior to computational biology, Manolis worked on artificial intelligence, sketch and image recognition, robotics, and computational geometry, at MIT and at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Manolis lived in Greece and France before moving to the US.