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Bo Yuan, Head of Bioinformatics at OSU Human Cancer Genetics


AT A GLANCE: Graduated from Beijing Medical University in 1983, received MS in structural biology in 1990 and PhD in molecular genetics in 1996 from the University of Louisville Medical School. Currently directs a group of 18 postdocs, graduate, and under- graduate students in the Human Cancer Genetics Program at Ohio State University. The bioinformatics group focuses on human genome analysis, gene indexing, microarray informatics, data mining, and other software development. Enjoys playing and watching soccer, likes classical music and opera.

QWhere will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

AIn two years, bioinformatics will focus on the use of the human (and soon mouse) genome draft to create complete, full-length, and non-redundant gene indices with initial functional annotation. In other words, we will begin to have a real gene map. In five years, bioinformatics will become the only and routine systematic approach for the study of significant biological questions, putting function and regulation in a complete positional and temporal context. The interaction and complexity of biological circuits will begin to be revealed by the integration of massive RNA and protein array experiments underway.

QWhat are the biggest challenges the field of bioinformatics faces?

AA centralized effort and standard to achieve, distribute, and mine heterogeneous biological and sequence data.

QWhat particular problems do academic bioinformatics projects face?

AOne problem is the general lack of supercomputing power, with academic environments being worse. There is also a lack of analytical and programming skills among academic researchers, which is necessary in order to perform original and high-impact research work in the genomic field.

QWhat do you see as the most important area for bioinformatics to address beyond genome sequencing?

ASequence variations and polymorphisms (SNPs, etc.), transcript variations (alternative splicing), and proteomics, which focus on the characterization and validation of all potential gene products.

QHow does the near completion of the human genome project affect university funding?

AI believe it is going to hurt regular genetic research laboratories — those which focus on one gene, one model, etc., which is typical in most institutions today. The message has been loud and clear that we are supposed to study a gene in the context of interaction and complexity, which is a much bigger and more biological picture. Thus, most original research requires the use and handling of large amounts of data to first define the hypothesis. In many cases, high-throughput technology and array experiments are necessary to make such kinds of global observations.

QHow do you compete with companies to attract and retain qualified bioinformaticists?

AWe offer the opportunity to perform high-impact research, the potential to grow, and multi-disciplinary collaboration.

QWhat hardware do you use?

AWe use SGI-Linux clusters (128 nodes each having four 550 MHz processors with 2 GB RAM) and digital Alpha servers as file servers.

QWhat bioinformatics software do you use? Do you use in-house developed or third-party software?

AWe use both public and in-house developed software. Except for OS and database engines, no commercial software is used.

QHow would you compare the quality of publicly available and commercially available bioinformatics products?

ASpeaking for academic bioinformatics researchers and developers, we have found the freely available software from all over the world is already good enough to perform meaningful and, in many cases (including our own), high-profile work.

QHow is the bioinformatics unit organized within the framework of the university?

AIt is part of a new department aimed at the post-genomics era, called Human Cancer Genetics.

QWhat made you decide to become a bioinfor- maticist?

ASeeing the entire human genome is like a dream come true. As a biologist, I understand the importance of systematical and analytical approaches toward the understanding of significant biological questions. Bioinformatics is the only way of doing this.

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