March 2, 2010: Student is latest in the BYU pipeline feeding a Harvard/MIT genetics program
This article originally appeared in BYU News.
Nathan Clement is
still a few courses away from earning a bachelor’s degree, but he’s
already credited with a significant advance in the field of DNA
The Brigham Young University undergrad is the lead
author on a study recently published in the medical journal Bioinformatics.
Working with BYU faculty from several different fields, Nathan
developed a mathematical algorithm that produces more accurate mapping
of DNA sequences.
Nathan is majoring in Computer Science with an emphasis
in bioinformatics, which requires heavy doses of biology and
“Trying to find where a relatively short
sequence matches among 3 billion base pairs is a great computer science
problem,” Nathan said.
With graduation plans in August, Nathan
plans to pursue a Ph.D. His resume already includes a prestigious
internship at Harvard and MIT, which co-sponsor a Summer Institute in
Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics. The program director says
traditionally one or more BYU students earn a spot in the class of 15.
program is very competitive but we've accepted a BYU student every year
so far,” said MIT’s Susanne Churchill. “They've done very well, and
because of the excellent program there, come equipped with skills to
engage in projects with tangible results including useful software
programs and published papers.”
To get sequenced, DNA has to be
chopped up into millions of tiny sections and fed through a high-tech
machine. The challenge afterward is getting all the information in the
right order, which gets complicated because 50 percent of the genome is
Nathan’s solution is to harness the level of certainty
that the sequencer made a correct identification of A, G, C or T for
each base pair – data ordinarily discarded by current software.
result? A much clearer map of where important genes – even those in
repetitive sections – are located. Nathan’s method is now being used by
researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
“Otherwise, if you
were searching for genetic mutations that cause leukemia, you had to
hope the mutations occur in the non-repetitive half of the genome,” said
Evan Johnson, a BYU statistics professor who mentored Nathan on the
brother, Kendell Clement, graduated from BYU a year ago and recently
published a separate study about how genes interact in
disorders like Down syndrome. Their father, Mark Clement, teaches
computer science at BYU and is named as a co-author on both studies.
feel like I’ve been able to share my excitement with them about what’s
happening in the field of computer science,” said Professor Clement.
“But the things they are learning come from other faculty.”
such mentor is BYU computer science professor Quinn Snell, who
specializes in high-throughput computing. Snell is also a co-author on