UCLA Launches CGSI with Inaugural Summer Programs

In 2015, Profs. Eleazar Eskin (UCLA), Eran Halperin (UCLA), John Novembre (The University of Chicago), and Ben Raphael (Brown University) created the Computational Genomics Summer Institute (CGSI). A collaboration with the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) led by Russ Caflisch, CGSI aims to develop a flexible program for improving education and enhancing collaboration in Bioinformatics research. In summer 2016, the inaugural program included a five-day short course (July 18-22) followed by a three-week long course (July 22 to August 12).

Over the past two decades, technological developments have substantially changed research in Bioinformatics. New methods in DNA sequencing technologies are capable of performing large-scale measurements of cellular states with a lower cost and higher efficiency of computing time. These improvements have revolutionized the potential application of genomic studies toward clinical research and development of novel diagnostic tools and treatments for human disease.

Modern genomic data collection creates an enormous need for mathematical and computational infrastructures capable of analyzing datasets that are increasingly larger in scale and resolution. This poses several unique challenges to researchers in Bioinformatics, an interdisciplinary field that cuts across traditional academic fields of math, statistics, computer science, and biology—and includes private-industry sequence technology developers. Innovation depends on seamless collaboration among scientists with different skill sets, communication styles, and institution-driven career goals. Therefore, impactful Bioinformatics research requires an original framework for doing science that bridges traditional discipline-based academic structures.

The summer 2016 courses combined formal research talks and tutorials with informal interaction and mentorship in order to facilitate exchange among international researchers. Participants in the short program attended five full days packed with lectures, tutorials, and journal clubs covering a variety of cutting-edge techniques. Senior trainees, including advanced graduate students and post-docs, underwent additional training through the long program’s residence program. The extended program enabled these scientists to interact with leading researchers through a mix of structured training programs and flexible time for collaboration with fellow participants and other program faculty.

Collaboration on a wide variety of problem types and research themes facilitated cross-disciplinary communication and networking. During both courses, CGSI participants shared technical skills in coding and data analysis relevant to genetic and epigenetic imputation, fine-mapping of complex traits, linear mixed models, and Bayesian statistics in human, canine, mouse, and bacteria datasets. Scholars at different stages of their careers explored application of these methods, among others, to emerging themes such as cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, evolutionary adaptation, early human origins, and data privacy.

CGSI instructors and participants established mentor-mentee relationships in computational genomics labs at UCLA, including the ZarLab and Bogdan Lab, while tackling practical problems and laying groundwork for future publications. In addition, participants developed comradery and professional connections while enjoying a full schedule of social activities, including dinners at classic Los Angeles area restaurants, volleyball tournaments in Santa Monica, bike rides along the beach, morning runs around UCLA campus, and even an excursion to see a live production of “West Side Story” at the Hollywood Bowl.

CGSI organizers thank the National Institutes of Health grant GM112625, UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute grant UL1TR000124, and IPAM for making this unique program possible. We look forward to fostering more collaboration between mathematicians, computer scientists, biologists, and sequencing technology developers in both industry and academia with future CGSI programs.

Visit the CGSI website for an up-to-date archive of program videos, slides, papers, and more:

Enrollment in 2017 CGSI programs opens this fall with a registration deadline of February 1.

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UCLA Computational Genomics Summer Institute

ipam-logoDear Colleagues,

I am happy to announce the UCLA Computational Genomics Summer Institute, which is a new National Institutes of Health funded program at UCLA jointly hosted with the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM). The program will take place each summer for one month. The dates for 2016 are July 18th – August 12th.

The program focuses on providing training in methodology development for genomics. We hope that it will be of interest to researchers at all levels. Our program builds upon a successful program hosted by IPAM in 2011 on “Mathematical and Computational Approaches in High Throughput Biology.” IPAM is a national math institute funded by the National Science Foundation.

The program consists of two parts. The first part (July 18th – July 22nd) is the Short Program which is in the format of a short course consisting of lectures from leading researchers in computational genomics. The short program is appropriate for researchers at all levels including both researchers actively involved in methodology development as well as other researchers who want to incorporate a methodology development aspect to their research program.

The second part (July 21st – August 12th) is the Long Program which is a continuation of the Short Program. The program is in the style of a typical long program hosted at IPAM where participants have opportunity to interact and collaborate with each other as well as the leading researchers who will serve as program faculty. The program is targeted toward senior trainees such as senior students or post-docs through established researchers.

Researchers at all levels — students, post-docs, staff researchers, as well as junior and senior faculty — are encouraged to participate in the program. Funding is available to support faculty and participant costs during the program. Because space is limited in the program, we are requiring interested participants and potential program faculty to apply as soon as possible.

Application materials are available on the program website (http://computationalgenomics.bioinformatics.ucla.edu). For questions about the program, interested individuals should email uclacgsi@gmail.com.

The UCLA CGSI Organizing Committee
Eleazar Eskin, UCLA, CGSI Director
Russel Caflisch, UCLA. IPAM Director
Eran Halperin, Tel Aviv University
John Novembre, University of Chicago
Ben Raphael, Brown University

Solving Crimes with DNA

Recently Zarlab hosted the first-ever Undergraduate Bioinformatics Speaker Series. Our lab has been steadily growing as our undergraduate research program becomes more robust, and we decided it was time we gave the undergrads an outlet of their own. Recently, the Computational Genetics Student Group (CGSG) was formed to serve the research, networking and extracurricular educational needs of the bioinformatics students (and those potentially interested in bioinformatics) at UCLA.

For our first event, we chose to explore the field of forensics and learn how bioinformatics and statistics can be used to solve crimes by analyzing DNA. Associate professor Kirk Lohmueller and Jill Licht, senior criminalist with the LA County Sheriff’s Department, gave insights into murder investigations where they served as expert witnesses. Kirk spoke about how the case was overthrown by the judge due to overlooking key forensic evidence. At the second trial, Kirk was able to testify to a potential second suspect whose blood was found at the crime scene. However, even with the additional DNA evidence, the jury still convicted the primary suspect based on a child’s eye witness account!

Jill was able to provide stories of what the day-to-day life of a forensic biologist is like. At least one week every month, she has to remain alert and ready to drive to the scene of a crime 24-hours a day. Sometimes she’ll get the call at 2 a.m. and have to drive an hour to get to the location. She explained how the Los Angeles Police Department only has jurisdiction in the city of Los Angeles, but the sheriff’s department oversees the rest of LA County. That means she could be called to anywhere from Pasadena to Long Beach. For someone who is squeamish at the sight of blood, Jill says she is able to handle it at work. The ultimate goal is to determine the story behind the scene, and she must stay focused in order to do her best work at the scene. Could you handle working with blood and brains?

If you are interested in this and future talks, leave us a comment below.