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September 26, 2005

Professor David Haussler to receive Carnegie Mellon's Dickson Prize


By Tim Stephens

Carnegie Mellon University will award its prestigious Dickson Prize in Science to David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and a leader in the field of bioinformatics.

David Haussler
David Haussler
Photo: r.r. jones

Haussler will receive an award of $50,000 and will deliver a public lecture as part of the prize ceremony to be held at Carnegie Mellon University in March 2006.

A Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, Haussler directs the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering (CBSE) at UCSC and is scientific codirector of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3). He has done pioneering work in the fields of computational learning theory and bioinformatics. At UCSC, he has been instrumental in establishing strong and productive interdisciplinary interactions between computer scientists and molecular biologists.

In the 1990s, Haussler introduced the use of powerful statistical models (hidden Markov models and related methods) to the analysis of biological sequences of DNA, RNA, and proteins. This work led to his involvement in the International Human Genome Project and his group's vital contribution to that project, providing a computational solution that allowed the completion of the first working draft of the human genome.

Haussler's group published the human genome sequence on the World Wide Web for public access and went on to develop and maintain the UCSC Genome Browser. This interactive web-based "microscope" allows researchers to view analyzed and annotated genome sequences of humans and other organisms at any scale, from a full chromosome down to an individual nucleotide. Biomedical researchers throughout the world use this browser extensively as they seek to understand and use the vast amount of information contained in the genome sequences.

Haussler uses the tools his team created to conduct ongoing research in comparative and evolutionary genomics. His group has pioneered a computer-based, probabilistic process for analyzing the genome of one mammalian species by comparing it to the genomes of one or more other species. Algorithms his team developed have identified segments that have been extremely well conserved throughout millions of years of evolution. Evolutionary theory predicts that these "ultra-conserved" regions represent novel functional elements of the genome, but their exact function remains a mystery. The ongoing investigation of these ultra-conserved regions in Haussler's lab may lead to a better understanding of how the genome works.

In his most ambitious project, Haussler and his colleagues are using the genomes of living mammals to attempt to reconstruct by computer the entire genome of the common ancestor of all placental mammals. While this work is still in the very early stages, it has already generated considerable interest.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, Haussler received the 2003 ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award, and R&D Magazine named him "Scientist of the Year" in 2001.

The Dickson Prize was established by a gift to Carnegie Mellon University from the estate of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Dickson to fund an annual prize to persons who have made outstanding contributions to science in the United States. Dr. Dickson was a prominent physician in the Pittsburgh area, and it was his wish to bring as much prestige and honor as possible to the university and to Pittsburgh with this prize. Since 1970, the university has awarded the Dickson Prize to prominent researchers in such areas as mathematics, cell biology, civil engineering, metallurgy, computer science, genetics, and physics.

 

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