Kellis making genomic news headlines

February 12, 2008

Manolis Kellis photographed by Donna Coveney, August 2009

"He's a whirlwind of energy, positive and energetic. He works around the clock, always with a smile, always enthusiastic."

So states Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, describing his former graduate student Manolis Kellis, now EECS Assistant Professor and researcher in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, CSAIL in the new field of computational biology. [Photo: Donna Coveney]

In a recent profile by the MIT News Office, Manolis Kellis, is noted as a young and fast-rising MIT researcher, using sophisticated computational tools to investigate the genomes of a variety of organisms, including humans, mice, fruit flies and yeast. Further, Kellis' work and resulting insights could lead to important findings about human development and disease.

Kellis happened upon biology while he was a graduate student at MIT in computer science. Viewing one of the first assemblies of the human genome on a computer screen, was like looking in a mirror, Kellis recalled and he "could never look back."

Both Eric Lander, who became Kellis' thesis advisor and MIT Applied Mathematics Professor Bonnie Berger, who heads the Computation and Biology Group at CSAIL and was Kellis' research advisor, recognized his talents for combining biology with keen algorithmic and mathematical skills. Kellis dove into the new field of comparative genomics--a field which can probe the genomes of different species to advance all kinds of promising knowledge in biological processes.

Kellis described to MIT News Office science writer David Chandler, "This represents a new phase in genomics--making biological discoveries sitting not at the lab bench, but at the computer terminal."

With the advantage of this computational approach, Kellis' research has enabled broad studies of gene function from one species to another over millions of years of evolution. His lab has used such methods to discover protein-coding genes, as well as RNA genes, micro-RNAs and DNA patterns involved in gene regulation, which govern when genes are turned on or off.

Following a recently announced project that Kellis co-led with a large team of MIT researchers and several other institutions, in which the genomes of 12 different species of fruit flies were mapped and analyzed, Kellis looks forward to even broader studies to map the genomes of 24 species of mammals. Moving on to such studies of the human genome are now feasible.

As Kellis persists in this research, the goals are even more inclusive. He stated for the MIT News Office: "We want to make sense of the cell's circuitry at a systems level. How is the genome controlling all of the cell's differentiation processes, the minutely choreographed dance of genes and regulators during development?"

Read more:

MIT News Office, Feb. 6, 2008: "On the front lines of the genomic revolution"

MIT News Office, Jan. 9, 2008: "MIT reports new twist in microRNA biology"

MIT News Office, Nov. 9, 2008: Team analyzes genomes of 12 fly species"