A University of Maryland researcher has received a $2.6 million federal grant to develop a suite of computational tools for use in reconstructing DNA segments, which could ultimately help scientists better understand the role that certain microbes have in human health and disease.
Mihai Pop, a professor of computer science and director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), will be assisted by postdocs and graduate students in the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB), as well as software experts in the Fraunhofer USA Center for Experimental Software Engineering.
The four-year award comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The money supports efforts to build software and develop algorithms that can reconstruct nearly-complete microbial genomes from complex mixtures found in environments like the human gut.
Pop and his team see their work as an important step in helping other scientists and clinicians determine how both good and bad bacteria move through environments, inside and outside of the human body.
“In a cultural context, we want to know when antibiotic-resistant genes get into the food stream,” Pop said. “We know that if you feed animals antibiotics, eventually you see the same bacterium in humans with that resistance. But we don’t have a very clear path of transmission. These tools will hopefully start developing that chain of transmission.”
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