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Yaniv Erlich: Fast-Paced Bioinformatics


Title: Principal investigator, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Education: PhD, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 2010
Recommended by: Jill Mesirov, The Whitehead Institut

For the Whitehead Institute's Yaniv Erlich, the faster the pace of research, the better. One of the most exciting things about his field, he says, is how quickly discoveries are made and how quickly they are converted to clinical applications. Erlich's team works on methods and strategies to develop high-throughput personal genomics. They seek to improve base-calling in high-throughput sequencing in order to identify the rare variations associated with Mendelian diseases more efficiently. They approach their research from "a pure bioinformatics standpoint," he says.

Being able to apply algorithms and mathematical concepts to this area of research appeals to Erlich. "Anytime you can find a mathematical algorithm that works for something and apply it to genomics, it's great," he says. The ability to convert all the theoretical work to applications for the clinic is also attractive to him.

But what Erlich really loves about this field is that it also challenges him. "It's very competitive and things move so fast — so you come to work with a lot of adrenaline each day," Erlich says. "There's new stuff happening all the time." But in order to get anything done, he says, researchers must move quickly to keep pace, which can sometimes be a daunting task.

A challenge Erlich faces is figuring out how to combine bench work with a bioinformatics approach to both accumulate data and analyze it. One of the most interesting questions for him is the connection between genotype and phenotype in complex human diseases and traits. Accumulating data is only the first step, he says — analyzing it will be the field's next challenge.

Papers of note

In May 2009, Erlich published a paper in Genome Research on what he called "DNA Sudoku" — a method meant to harness high-throughput sequencing for the analysis of multiplexed specimens. Erlich's method relies on barcoding pools of specimens for sequencing, instead of individual specimens. Using this technique, the identity of each specimen is encoded within the pooling pattern, and decoding the pattern allows researchers to infer the sequence of an original specimen with high confidence.

And the Nobel goes to ...

Erlich would like to win the Nobel Prize for understanding the connection between genotypes and phenotypes.

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