MU researchers' new biological data analysis tool may help improve medicine

Friday, April 13, 2012 | 11:55 a.m. CDT; updated 8:00 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 14, 2012

COLUMBIA — A computer algorithm developed by MU researchers has the potential ability to create more effective medicines and detect side effects of drugs.

The technology can scan all human proteins for sequence regions that are identical among people, said Dmitry Korkin, an MU professor in computer science.

Finding these regions is useful in determining whether a certain drug that targets a region in one protein can target the same region in other proteins, which are otherwise not related, Korkin said.

"If that happens, we can have either a side effect or potentially have another therapeutic effect," Korkin said.

Korkin led interdisciplinary research using this new tool to find identical DNA sequences in plants.

The research compared six plant species: arabidopsis, soybean, rice, cottonwood, sorghum and grape. It was a collaboration among MU, the University of California and the University of Arizona, according to a news release.

The paper has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed science journal.

Previous studies had never been able to compare plants' genomes at such a scale because regions in plant genes are not arranged in the same order, said Gavin Conant, an MU professor in animal sciences who co-authored the paper.

"In plants, genes are scattered around," Conant said. "Even though corn and soybean have many of the same genes, their orders have been scrambled quite a bit."

The newly developed algorithm has the unprecedented power in helping the researchers analyze massive DNA data, Conant said.

"It enables us to study the problems at the multi-genome scale," Korkin said.

The data computing lasted four weeks, with 48 processors running about 32 billion searches, according to the release.

It's like searching for needles in the haystacks of biological data, Korkin said.

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