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February 25, 2002

David Haussler to deliver Faculty Research Lecture on Thursday, February 28

By Tim Stephens

Professor of computer science David Haussler has gained international recognition through his recent contributions to the Human Genome Project. Having helped to assemble a working draft of the human genome, he is now deeply involved in efforts to use the information encoded in the genome sequence to transform the practice of medicine and our understanding of biology.

David Haussler holds the UC Presidential Chair in Computer Science. Photo: r.r. jones
On Thursday, February 28, Haussler will give the 35th annual Faculty Research Lecture at UCSC. His talk, entitled "A Working Draft of the Human Genome," will begin at 8 p.m. in the Media Theater. The event is free and open to the general public.

Haussler holds the UC Presidential Chair in Computer Science and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He is director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering (CBSE), and was recently appointed associate director of the UC systemwide Insitute for Bioengineering, Biotechnology, and Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3). He was named "2001 Scientist of the Year" by R&D magazine.

For many years, Haussler has been recognized as a leader in the fields of computational learning theory, computational biology, and bioinformatics. At UCSC, one of his most important accomplishments has been to forge deep and fruitful scientific interactions between computer scientists and molecular biologists.

These interdisciplinary interactions at UCSC proved to be crucial to the success of the public Human Genome Project. Through Alan Zahler, an associate professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology, Haussler began collaborating with Zahler's graduate student, Jim Kent. In the spring of 2000, Kent created the computer program used to assemble the genome data produced by sequencing labs around the world into the DNA sequences of the human chromosomes. This first working draft of the human genome was completed just days before a carefully orchestrated announcement at the White House.

Haussler's group posted the first working draft of the genome on the World Wide Web and has continued to post regularly updated versions. Molecular biologists and biomedical researchers make more than 50,000 web requests per day for information from this site and its international mirror sites.

Not only is the genome sequence itself available at these sites, but also information on human genes and their variation in the population, their locations in relation to genetic and cytogenetic maps of inherited human diseases, corresponding genes in other species, and dozens of other kinds of information. By providing integration and analysis of this data, the new field of bioinformatics is helping to transform molecular biology and medicine.

Ten years from now, doctors may routinely use genomic data and bioinformatics as part of disease diagnosis and treatment. But along with the promise of dramatically improved health care, this new technology raises important social, ethical, and legal questions. Will the new medicine be broadly available? Will insurers or employers be allowed to discriminate against individuals based on their genetic makeup? How far should people be allowed to go in choosing the genetic attributes of their children?

In his talk, Haussler will discuss the excitement of doing research on the cutting edge of science and technology, as well as the concerns that accompany recent progress in understanding our genetic heritage.

Haussler joined the UCSC faculty in 1986. He earned his B.A. in mathematics from Connecticut College, an M.S. in applied mathematics from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Colorado, Boulder.


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