Sophomore uses research experience to found Genomics and Bioinformatics Club

November 9, 2020 — by Nilay Mishra

Sophomore Isha Jagadish spent this past summer programming neural networks in Google Colab notebooks to evaluate the genetic risk factors behind Parkinson’s Disease. She did this at UC Santa Barbara’s Summer Research Academies using the relatively new field of bioinformatics — an interdisciplinary field involving biology and computer science.

She thoroughly enjoyed her research, but realized that other students lacked similar opportunities. She resolved to fix this by starting the Genomics and Bioinformatics Club in August in the hopes of introducing relevant tools and concepts to students.  

“Bioinformatics and its use in genomics is making an impact in our society in applications such as drug discovery and disease prediction,” Jagadish said. “This has ended up saving thousands of lives since its inception.”

The club’s first meeting, on Sept. 25, introduced club members to the basic concepts of genomics technologies and outlined future plans. Almost 30 people attended the meeting, including their adviser, math teacher Kelly Frangieh.

Freshman Advaith Avadhanam said that he is excited to learn more, as he is particularly interested in genetics but never had the opportunity to learn more about it.

“Having a strong knowledge of biology and genetics has always fascinated me,” Avadhanam said. “I’m excited to see where we can go from here.”

The club meets once a month to talk about different topics within genomics and bioinformatics. It has become an official Inno chapter, which is a student-run non-profit organization that introduces students to biotechnology concepts and provides competitive opportunities. Bioinformatics club members also play interactive online games such as Kahoot! based on concepts reviewed in the meeting for a chance at winning a gift card prize.

Among other activities, the club aims to take a look at the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 to understand how it infects cells to cause COVID-19. This ties into research many scientists are undertaking to create the vaccine and cure for the virus, Jagadish said.

The club also plans on organizing an officer-guided group project where teams can collaborate over the course of the semester. During the last meeting of the semester, students will present their project to the other members, and some plan on submitting their project to science fairs. A benefit of being an Inno chapter is an optional competition during the second semester, called the Innovation Development Conference, where participants can work individually or as part of a team to present their work in front of a panel of judges.

 In addition, the club is planning to host a monthly speaker series, the first of which occurred on Oct. 24 and featured a Stanford Ph.D. among others. Speakers describe their journeys in bioinformatics as well as the projects they have worked on. The speakers also talked about modern technologies such as BLAST and CRISPR-Cas9.

“It’s great that so many people have joined this club,“ said Lauren Ramlen, one of the PhD speakers from Stanford. “By joining the club, you can start to develop connections and gain opportunities. One of my biggest regrets is not getting started sooner.”

 

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