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USM Professor Researching Genetics and Environment

USM Associate Professor of Computer Science Clare Bates Congdon of Waterville is part of a team of scientists throughout northern New England that is researching how genetics and the environment work together to trigger and prevent disease.

The team, led by Dartmouth College Medical School, received an $11 million Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant from the National Institutes of Health to form the regional “Quantitative Biology Research Institute.” Other collaborating institutions include the University of Maine, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Vermont, as well as the Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and Maine Medical Center Research Institute.

Congdon’s five-year project represents $1.2 million of the award, and will focus on development of powerful computational approaches to identify noncoding DNA regions that alter genetic mechanisms. Along with others on the grant, she will study diseases such cystic fibrosis, and investigate the effects of toxic metals such as arsenic on genetic mechanisms. “We have a wonderful blend of biological and quantitative expertise on the team,” Congdon said. “Modern genomics research requires an interdisciplinary approach such as this.”

She also is the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) $400,000, five-year CAREER grant. The NSF describes the grant program as its “…most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

Congdon involves USM undergraduate students in her bioinformatics research, and has taken many such students to international conferences to present their work. In November, students David Gagne of Portland and Jeffrey Thompson of Bridgton will be presenting their work at the IEEE International Conference on Bioinformatics and Biomedicine in Atlanta.