Jeff Thompson never really thought about working in bioinformatics before starting classes at USM. Now he is one of a core of 12 undergraduate computer science students who are working closely with Clare Bates Congdon, Associate Professor of Computer Science, on research projects in bioinformatics, a field that uses computational tools to help understand the interactions between genes and the environment. Thanks to the work with Dr. Congdon, Thompson and fellow Computer Science student David Gagne have both had papers accepted for presentation at national and international computer science conferences.
Photo Caption: Dr. Clare Bates Congdon with students Jeff Thompson and David Gagne.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn about cutting-edge computational methodologies and technologies used for genomics research.” Dr. Clare Bates Congdon, Associate Professor of Computer Science
Gagne and Thompson’s research relates to two major grants that have been awarded to Dr. Congdon. As part of an $11 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant led by Dartmouth Medical School, she was awarded $1.2 million over five years in support of a project to develop computational models to investigate how genetics and the environment work together to trigger and prevent disease. The National Science Foundation (NSF) also awarded Dr. Congdon with a $400,000, five-year CAREER grant to support the work of teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate their research with the education of students.
Congdon has a strong track record of supporting student research. Over the past 10 years, she has published 10 book chapters and conference papers with student co-authors and mentored students through more than 47 presentations at regional and international conferences. In November 2011, Gagne and Thompson both presented their work at the IEEE International Conference on Bioinformatics and Biomedicine in Atlanta. Both undergraduate students also had peer-reviewed papers accepted for publication and presentation at the IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation, taking place in June 2012.
Gagne, who is working on team with members from USM, the Dartmouth Medical School, and the University of Maine to study the noncoding DNA elements that may contribute to cystic fibrosis, was recently awarded Honorable Mention in the Computing Research Association’s (CRA) 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award. Thompson has developed a new approach to searching for functional elements in noncoding DNA using genetic algorithms as a basis for computational methods. He will be presenting his research findings for legislators in Augusta.
Other undergraduates also working in the bioinformatics lab include Rachel Champoux, Jim Duffy, Crystal Dugan, Michael Jewell, Kevin Knowlton, Dennis Nicholas, Nicol Rosen, Josh Smith, Brian Tellier, and Adam Wirth.
More information on USM's Department of Computer Science can be found at usm.maine.edu/cos.