Bioinformatics Student Ranked in the Nvidia ACS COMP award 2016

Please help us in congratulating Jeremy Ash (Bioinformatics, Ph.D.)who recently won second place in the competitive Nvidia ACS COMP poster contest.  His work is relevant for the development of extremely predictive QSAR models needed for lead optimization, which is of great interest to pharmaceutical companies for modeling technology. Congratulations, Jeremy!!


ASH_ERK2_MDdescriptors Jeremy Ash

BRC Hosts Spring B.I.G. talks

The Bioinformatics Research Center will be hosting weekly Industry and Government partners in informal talks aimed at partnership, collaboration, and the sharing of ideas. Each Monday at 11:30am, we will welcome a different partner to speak to our Graduate students, faculty and research staff. Talks last roughly 30 minutes, and are followed by pizza. Schedule is as follows:

BIG schedule

B.I.G. schedule


‘Development of Novel Therapeutics to Modulate Bacterial Biofilms’ Research Project to start in 2016

Drs. Pierce (Chemistry), Fourches (Chemistry, BRC), and Elfenbein (CVM) have received a grant from the Research and Innovation Funding (RISF) program. Their research project is entitled “Development of Novel Therapeutics to Modulate Bacterial Biofilms” and will be conducted in 2016.

Tanguay & Reif labs awarded new Systems Toxicology grant!

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded a 3-year grant to fund a collaboration between Oregon State University (Robert Tanguay, Jane La Du, Mike Simonich, Chris Sullivan) and North Carolina State University (David Reif) entitled “System Toxicological Approaches to Define Flame Retardant Adverse Outcome Pathways”.

From the EPA webpage:

A team of researchers from Oregon State University and North Carolina State University proposes to conduct the first comprehensive in vivo,structure-activity based toxicity studies of flame retardant chemicals (FRCs), including FRCs that EPA has phased out, FRCs that companies manufacture now, and FRCs that companies have proposed as replacements. (They) will test the hypothesis that the toxicity of FRCs will be highly dependent on their chemical structure.

2015 Cockerham Lecture: Dr. Nancy Cox of Vanderbilt Univ.

The Bioinformatics Research Center was pleased to present the 2015 C. Clark Cockerham Guest Lecture, with guest speaker, Dr. Nancy Cox of Vanderbilt University. The title of her lecture was, ““New Kinds of Data Integration: Genome x Transcriptome x Electronic Medical Records”. The Bioinformatics Research Center would like to thank all those who attended and especially Dr. Nancy Cox for her time and efforts.



DREAMing of smart crowds in toxicity testing

Recent research conducted by BRC Director Fred Wright and Ivan Rusyn of Texas A&M University ( resulted in a treasure trove of data on variation of chemical sensitivities in human cell lines. In collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the researchers had studied over 1000 cell lines and exposure to 179 chemicals, with the goal of mapping genetic variation in toxicity response. Says Wright “the data are so rich that we really are just scratching the surface.” Expanding the collaboration to include Sage Bionetworks and a crowd-sourcing initiative known as Dream Challenges, the bioinformatics community was enlisted to further mine the data, providing prediction algorithms that can aid future researchers in predicting toxicity based on DNA profiles and chemical structures. An article describing the results of this crowdsourcing effort recently appeared in Nature Biotechnology (

Image credit: Nature Biotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nbt.3299, under Creative Commons License



EPA awards grant for multi-institution collaboration between the BRC and Texas A&M

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded a $6 million grant to fund a multi-institutional collaboration between the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and the Bioinformatics Research Center at NCSU. investigating the effects of environmental toxicants on human health with a focus on the potential adverse effects on the heart. The investigators will study the effect of environmental chemicals on cultures of cells that have been coaxed into behaving like heart muscle, even to the point of beating with a regular rhythm. Dr. Fred Wright, the principal investigator for the NCSU site, says “the ability to systematically investigate cardiac toxicity in this manner opens up the study of inter-individual variability in toxicity testing, in a way that was not possible before.” Other investigators at NCSU include Associate Professor David Reif and Research Assistant Professor Yi-Hui Zhou.

Image credit: Cellular Dynamics



In fruit flies, infection results in increased genetic diversity

New research from North Carolina State University and Reed College shows that when fruit flies are attacked by parasites or bacteria they respond by producing offspring with greater genetic variability. This extra genetic variability may give the offspring an increased chance of survival when faced with the same pathogens. These findings demonstrate that parents may purposefully alter the genotypes of their offspring.

The study was led by BRC faculty member Dr. Nadia Singh, and published in the August 14, 2015 issue of Science.

Image credit: Dahlia Nielsen, NCSU



Better, faster, stronger GWAS

BRC faculty member Yi-Hui Zhou, Research Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, has received a two-year R21 award from the National Human Genome Research Institute to develop new methods to analyze genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Existing methods for genetic association mapping primarily use parametric statistical assumptions. Explains Dr. Zhou, “standard methods can fail, even for large sample sizes, at the extreme significance thresholds required when testing millions of genetic markers.” An alternative approach uses permutation, a kind of data shuffling that provides accurate results, but is computationally intensive. The grant proposes to develop new mathematical approximations to permutation, in order to provide fast and accurate testing with greatly reduced computational burden.


New Project Tackles Genetic Switchboard for DNA

It’s 2015, and the link between inherited DNA variation and numerous diseases is well-established. However, an important question remains – how, exactly do these links between genetic variation and disease work? The Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project, funded by the National Institutes of Health and including a team of researchers from NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill, aims to start answering that question by looking at how genetic variation affects gene expression.

“Important gaps still remain in understanding genetic processes, which vary greatly across the organs and tissues of the human body,” says Fred Wright, professor of statistics and biological sciences at NC State. “We have little understanding of how genetic variants actually cause disease, because we haven’t been able to look at the gene expression part of the equation. GTEx aims to fill the knowledge gap between the DNA you’re born with and actual disease outcomes.”

“You can think of DNA as the controller of a giant genetic switchboard,” explains Wright’s collaborator Andrew Nobel, professor of statistics and operations research at UNC-Chapel Hill. “When DNA switches on a gene, the gene produces proteins with specific functions. In the case of many common diseases, relatively small changes in protein output can have profound effects on disease risk.”

The GTEx project took samples of a large variety of tissues from 175 recently deceased individuals, measuring gene expression in those tissues. First, the researchers established that nearly normal gene activity persists for several hours after death. Then the major task of connecting variation in DNA to expression began. This is where Wright, Nobel and their team came in – to find meaningful correlations among all the “noise.”

“We had data for millions of DNA variants and how each variant was related to gene expression in different tissues,” Wright says. “Since we were looking at multiple tissues, there were gaps and overlaps in the data. We had to come up with a mathematical/statistical model that could assess, for each DNA variant and each gene, the evidence for the variant-gene combination being active for each of the tissues. The data were analyzed all together, but we untangled associations that reflected underlying true biology, versus associations that were happenstance because of sample overlap.”

Initial results were promising. The group found that DNA variants that affect expression tend to do so either in one tissue alone, or in all the examined tissues. Groups within GTEx are now comparing the results of the model to each variant-disease association, helping us further narrow down the genes that the variants affect, and in which tissue. The work may bring us one step closer to personalized therapies for numerous diseases.

The results appear in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1262110). NC State co-authors include Yi-Hui Zhou, research assistant professor of biological sciences. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Mental Health and the NIH Common Fund.