B.I.G. Summer in ZarLab

This summer, six young adults engaged in a unique eight-week learning experience with ZarLab, learning practical skills in genomics and bioinformatics while conducting research on large-scale human genetic datasets. These four undergraduate students participated in the Bruins-In-Genomics (B.I.G.) Summer Program, an intensive laboratory and seminar program aimed at providing real-world experience for students who are interested in pursuing interdisciplinary graduate education in the quantitative and biological sciences. In addition, two Los Angeles-area high school students participated in laboratory activities as volunteer researchers.

Eleazar Eskin, co-organizer of the summer program, and Serghei Mangul, post-doctoral scholar, hosted the young scholars in ZarLab, a UCLA computational genetics group affiliated with both the Computer Science Department and the Human Genetics Department. Mangul supervised a group of students who collaborated on a project aimed at developing computational methods for the study of the human immune system and microbiome. Working with data from one of the largest sequencing projects in the world, the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) study, the students analyzed more than 8,000 samples obtained from 544 individuals and representing 53 different tissue types. In doing so, they gained familiarization with current approaches to studying how changes in our genes contribute to common human diseases.

During a poster session on August 12, 2016, the B.I.G. participants presented the results of their work on GTEx:

  • Jeremy Rotman: “Studying the microbiome by analyzing the coverage of sequencing reads mapped to viruses, eukaryotes, and bacteria”
  • Benjamin Statz: “An improved method for analysis of variable domain of B and T cell receptors”
  • William Van Der Wey: “Functional profiling of microbial communities across multiple human tissues”
  • Kevin Wesel: “Profiling repeat elements across multiple human tissues”

In addition to mentoring B.I.G. Program students in ZarLab, Mangul developed and presented a three-part series of workshops introducing students to UNIX earlier during the program.

Eskin and Mangul also hosted a B.I.G. Program student, Samantha Jenson, who collaborated with Jonathan Flint, a world-renowned authority on the genetics of depression and co-director of UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge. This year, Eskin facilitated a Neurogenetics working group and weekly neurogenetics seminar series for the B.I.G. Program. Participants in this group gained first-hand experience in the process of developing methods for mapping the underlying genetic causes of Major Depression Disorder. Jenson presented her work on “Structural variant discovery in Major Depression Disorder” during the August 12th poster session.

The annual B.I.G. Program is a collaboration between multiple labs and includes next generation sequencing analysis workshops, weekly science talks by researchers, a weekly student journal club, professional development seminars, social activities, concluding poster sessions, and an optional GRE test prep course. Participants also benefited from relevant workshops and research talks presented during the UCLA Computational Genomics Summer Institute (CGSI).

Congratulations to Benjamin, Jeremy, Kevin, Samantha, and William on their acceptance to and success in the B.I.G. Summer Program!

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We thank the following generous institutions that made this year’s B.I.G. Summer Program a big success:

  • National Institutes of Health grant MH109172
  • UCOP for a UC-HBCU partnership Program in Genomics and Systems
  • NIH NIBIB for NGS Data Analysis Skills for the Biosciences Pipeline  R25EB022364
  • NIH NIMH for Undergraduate Research Experience in Neuropsychiatric Genomics R25MH109172-01

Learn more about the B.I.G. Program:
UCLA Newsroom: UCLA hosts summer program for future biosciences leaders

About Lana Martin

i write and teach.