By: Ananya Sen
Sihai Dave Zhao (GNDP), an associate professor of statistics, has been appointed the Director of Computational Genomics at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.
Zhao has been a member of the IGB for over eight years, joining the year he came to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. At the IGB he develops analysis strategies for genomic data, improves statistical applications in biology, and studies spatial transcriptomics and behavioral genomics.
He has made important contributions both to the former IGB theme Computing Genomes for Reproductive Health and the current Gene Networks in Neural Development and Plasticity theme.
“Working with the GNDP theme has been fantastic. Our first project looked at genes that are associated with social behavior across honey bees, stickleback fish, and mice. I helped the researchers design statistical analyses to figure out what genes and gene networks are involved,” Zhao said. “We are still continuing that work in different animals and paradigms.”
Along with Hee-Sun Han (GNDP/IGOH), an assistant professor of chemistry and a Mark A. Pytosh Scholar, and IGB’s former computational genomics director Saurabh Sinha, Zhao also launched the Spatial ‘Omics Initiative in Spring 2022.
“It involves using new technology to understand genomes and gene function and it seems like a good way of bringing expertise from across the campus—including engineers, computer scientists, and biologists—together,” Zhao said.
Zhao is also interested in continuing several projects and collaborations that Sinha was involved in, including the campus-wide Personalized Nutrition Initiative; building workforce capacity by connecting students with opportunities in bioinformatics; and finding grant opportunities that encourage collaborations across the Illinois campus.
“I see how powerful Illinois can be in the field of computational genomics and I want to help continue the developments in this direction,” Zhao said. “I’m excited about this position because I like talking to people about science. The more we talk to each other, the better the science will be.”
By: Ananya Sen
Photos By: Sihai Dave Zhao