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Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Where Science Meets Society

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Jian Ma, an assistant professor in bioengineering and a member of the Cellular Decision Making in Cancer Research Theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award to study large-scale genomic changes in mammalian species and their phenotypic consequences.

“The project will develop new combinatorial and probabilistic algorithms that will allow us to unravel the interwoven large-scale genomic changes - including rearrangements, duplications, and large insertions and deletions - that have occurred across species in an evolutionary context,” explained Ma, who joined the Department of Bioengineering faculty in August 2009. “These methods will be applied to the large number of whole-genome sequence data that have become available to elucidate detailed history of large-scale genomic operations in mammalian genomes and assess their phenotypic impact on any lineage, including the human lineage.

According to Ma, these new software tools and resources will be extremely useful to shed new light on the extraordinary diversity of mammalian forms and capabilities. In addition, the insights from this project will be applied to improve genome assembly methodologies based on next-generation high-throughput DNA sequencing reads. The models and algorithms will also be used to investigate specific genomic regions influenced by large-scale changes, such as complex gene clusters and regions that harbor genome instability in cancer genomes.

Before moving to Illinois, Ma was a postdoctoral scholar with David Haussler at University of California, Santa Cruz. He received his PhD in computer science in December 2006 from Penn State under the supervision of Webb Miller. He earned his bachelor’s  and master’s degrees from Fudan University, Shanghai, China.

In addition to his appointment in bioengineering and at the IGB, Ma is also an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Computer Science. In 2009, he was elected as a Faculty Fellow of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

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