NSF backs strategy to reconstruct cancer cells' evolution
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IMAGE: This is Luay Nakhleh. view more 

Credit: Mika Nakhleh

The National Science Foundation has awarded two grants for a combined $1.5 million to Rice University computational biologist Luay Nakhleh to expand big data techniques in the fight against cancer and to scale up methods that infer connections between evolutionary pathways.

While the projects use similar strategies to track evolutionary pathways, one focuses on species-level analysis, while the other drops down to the level of single cells.

Nakhleh’s research group specializes in computational research related to evolution and develops big-data tools that use genetic data to find previously unknown connections between species. Using a statistical technique called inference, the team can estimate the probability of that genes in one species are related to genes in another.

A four-year grant will allow Nakhleh’s lab to expand the capabilities of PhyloNet, an open-source software package he and his team developed to determine aspects of evolution that wouldn’t show up on a standard evolutionary — or phylogenetic — tree but would appear as part of a network.

Phylogenetic networks are branching diagrams of evolutionary progression based on similarities and differences in species’ genetic characteristics, but they are limited in the amount of

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