Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Mosquitoes suck

One research area that I've been thinking about is malaria; having had several bouts of it myself, I have a somewhat personal grudge against it =). However, nobody at MIT seems to be working on it, so I spent a bit of time looking elsewhere, with the result that I sent email to Dr.Dyann Wirth,who heads up the Harvard Malaria Initiative. I wanted to do two things: get her take on the applicability of computational methods to malaria research, given the current state of knowledge about the malaria parasite's life cycle and biology, and see whether there was a chance I could maybe do some work in her lab if I couldn't find anything of that sort at MIT. She was kind enough to be willing to talk to me [despite me being a random non-Harvard student who emailed her out of the blue =)], so I went by her office today.

She is definitely super cool -- she invited me to come to her lab meetings and hang around her lab to meet people, recommended books for me to read, offered to introduce me to a few people etc. Basically, she was very encouraging and didn't really seem to care too much that I'm an MIT grad student and not affiliated with Harvard in any way; her take on it was that university faculty in the Boston area tended to be pretty easy-going about cross-university collaborations and so she thought it was a definite possibility that I could do some work in her lab if I was interested. It's nice to find somebody that welcoming.

Her perspective on the applicability of computational methods was also very positive. Her lab is actually doing a fair bit of bioinformatics-based analysis of the malaria parasite's genome, as well as analysis of how expression of the genes is regulated during the parasite's lifecycle, to help figure out how to combat drug-resistant strains of malaria. She thought that malaria was actually a good test for computational methods because knowledge of the molecular biology of the parasite isn't as far advanced as some other systems that have been studied, and hence any computational models will have less "built-in" knowledge [or bias] about the biology and results that come out of them will really be based on computation, not on pre-existing knowledge.

Quite apart from the human health aspects, malaria is a fascinating subject in itself -- the parasite goes through several lifecycle stages both in humans and in mosquitoes, changes its gene expression radically depending on which stage of the lifecycle it's in, has developed various forms of drug resistance by modifying its genome, comes in several different variations with differing toxicities etc. Basically, if you want to work on genomic analysis, gene regulatory network analysis, molecular evolution and probably a few more areas -- malaria has something to offer.

Now I have to figure out how open the MIT folks are to having me maybe do some work in her lab ...


Blogger Corey said...

Good luck with that, my friend. It seems if she was so willing to offer, that perhaps others at MIT will be encouraged by your enthusiasm. With such a good argument for how fascinating and applicable the subject, you just might get the proverbial pat on the butt and a "go get 'em, tiger".

11:30 AM  

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