I'm a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University in the Department of Computer Science and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. My research is in computational and systems biology, where I focus on the evolution of regulatory networks in Dr. Mona Singh's lab.
I enjoy traveling, philosophy, tulips, and pumpkin muffins.Email LinkedIn CV (PDF)
Pervasive variation of transcription factor orthologs contributes to regulatory network divergence
Differences in transcriptional regulatory networks underlie much of the phenotypic variation observed across organisms. Changes to cis-regulatory elements are widely believed to be the predominant means by which regulatory networks evolve, yet examples of regulatory network divergence due to transcription factor (TF) variation have also been observed. To systematically ascertain the extent to which TFs contribute to regulatory divergence, we analyzed the evolution of the largest class of metazoan TFs, Cys2-His2 zinc finger (C2H2-ZF) TFs, across 12 Drosophila species spanning ~45 million years of evolution. Remarkably, we uncovered that a significant fraction of all C2H2-ZF 1-to-1 orthologs in flies exhibit variations that can affect their DNA-binding specificities. In addition to loss and recruitment of C2H2-ZF domains, we found diverging DNA-contacting residues in ~44% of domains shared between D. melanogaster and the other fly species. These diverging DNA-contacting residues, present in ~70% of the D. melanogaster C2H2-ZF genes in our analysis and corresponding to ~26% of all annotated D. melanogaster TFs, show evidence of functional constraint: they tend to be conserved across phylogenetic clades and evolve more slowly than other diverging residues. These same variations were rarely found as polymorphisms within a population of D. melanogaster flies, indicating their rapid fixation. The predicted specificities of these dynamic domains gradually change across phylogenetic distances, suggesting stepwise evolutionary trajectories for TF divergence. Further, whereas proteins with conserved C2H2-ZF domains are enriched in developmental functions, those with varying domains exhibit no functional enrichments. Our work suggests that a set of highly dynamic and largely unstudied TFs are a likely source of regulatory variation in Drosophila and other metazoans.
Formatt: Correcting protein multiple structural alignments by incorporating sequence alignment
Background: The quality of multiple protein structure alignments are usually computed and assessed based on geometric functions of the coordinates of the backbone atoms from the protein chains. These purely geometric methods do not utilize directly protein sequence similarity, and in fact, determining the proper way to incorporate sequence similarity measures into the construction and assessment of protein multiple structure alignments has proved surprisingly difficult.
Results: We present Formatt, a multiple structure alignment based on the Matt purely geometric multiple structure alignment program, that also takes into account sequence similarity when constructing alignments. We show that Formatt outperforms Matt and other popular structure alignment programs on the popular HOMSTRAD benchmark. For the SABMark twilight zone benchmark set that captures more remote homology, Formatt and Matt outperform other programs; depending on choice of embedded sequence aligner, Formatt produces either better sequence and structural alignments with a smaller core size than Matt, or similarly sized alignments with better sequence similarity, for a small cost in average RMSD.
Conclusions: Considering sequence information as well as purely geometric information seems to improve quality of multiple structure alignments, though defining what constitutes the best alignment when sequence and structural measures would suggest different alignments remains a difficult open question.
Formatt: Correcting protein multiple structural alignments by sequence peeking
Proceedings of the 2011 ACM Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology and Biomedicine (BCB)
We present Formatt, a multiple structure alignment program based on the Matt purely geometric multiple structural alignment program, that also takes into account sequence similarity when constructing alignments. We show that Formatt is superior to Matt in alignment quality based on objective measures (most notably Staccato sequence and structure scores) while preserving the same advantages in core length and RMSD that Matt has as a flexible structure aligner, as compared to other multiple structure alignment programs on popular benchmark datasets. Applications include producing better training data for threading methods.
Evolving soft robotic locomotion in PhysX
Proceedings of the 2009 ACM Conference on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation (GECCO)
Given the complexity of the problem, genetic algorithms are one of the more promising methods of discovering control schemes for soft robotics. Since physically embodied evolution is time consuming and expensive, an outstanding challenge lies in developing fast and suitably realistic simulations in which to evolve soft robot gaits. We describe two parallel methods of using NVidia’s PhysX, a hardware-accelerated (GPGPU) physics engine, in order to evolve and optimize soft bodied gaits. The first method involves the evolution of open-loop gaits using a reduced-order lumped parameter model. The second method involves harnessing PhysX’s soft-bodied material simulation capabilites. In each case we discuss the the challenges and possibilities involved in using the PhysX for evolutionary soft robotics.
For more information, please see my CV.
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