University of Illinois Bioengineering graduate student Dan Xie has received a prestigious Mavis Future Faculty Fellows Award from the College of Engineering for the 2010-11 academic year. The Mavis Fellowship allows doctoral students who are interested in academic careers to gain experience in research, teaching, and mentoring by providing them with $6,000 in stipend and travel funds.
Xie has made important contributions to the field of systems biology during the past four years. He tackled the long-standing challenge of computationally identifying regulatory DNA regions in large genomes, such as the human genome. His algorithm, GibbsModule, simultaneously utilizes three sources of information to hunt for regulatory DNA sequences in the human and other mammalian genomes. Other methods utilize separate sources of information.
“Dan’s method will increase our capability to decode the human genome and better understand the principles of evolution, ” said Bioengineering Professor Sheng Zhong, Xie’s advisor.
Xie also developed a software tool (GoSurfer) for gene ontology analysis of gene clusters, which provides the means to analyze large-scale high-throughput data that are common to the study of human diseases.
More recently, Xie conducted a genomic study of human, mouse, and bovine early embryonic development. This study identified a surprisingly large amount of inter-species differences in gene expression during embryonic development, which were previously thought to be a very conserved biological process. Xie and his colleagues—other Zhong lab members, researchers in Illinois Professor Harris Lewin’s lab, and researchers in Huck-Hui Ng’s lab at the Genome Institute of Singapore—showed that these changes were due to alternated gene regulation through DNA mutation and insertion of “jumping genes”. This work was published as a cover article in Genome Research and was featured in Nature in 2010.
A graduate of the University of Science in Technology of China, Xie joined Zhong’s Computational Biology Lab in 2006. He served as a teaching assistant for a biomedical instrumentation course and he has guest lectured in a statistics and genomics course. He plans to finish his doctorate by summer 2011 and begin his career in academia or at a research institute.