Penn State team wins first-place award for DNA-sequencing algorithm

July 14, 2011

A DNA-sequencing algorithm co-developed by Stephan Schuster, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, and Ji Qi and Fangqing Zhao, who were Penn State postdoctoral fellows on the research team, has received top honors in a competition for new software developments in next-generation DNA sequencing. The biotechnology company Illumina awarded Schuster and his co-authors the first-place academic-category price, which included a monetary award, for their inGAP (Integrated Next-generation Genome Analysis Pipeline) software. Illumina's iDEA (Data Excellence Award) Challenge is "a program designed to challenge the scientific community to develop new and creative visualization and data-analysis techniques."

Schuster and his colleagues originally published their algorithm in 2009 in the journal Bioinformatics. Since then, it has undergone improvements, including new methods for visualizing SNPs --- single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or variations in a single base pair of a DNA sequence. Schuster explained that "inGAP nicely summarizes complex genomic data into a simple figure. In fact, it was developed with the bench scientist in mind -- a researcher who needs to analyze large sets of DNA sequence data." In a few months, the team will publish a paper that describes the updated version of inGAP.

Schuster's research has received many other awards and recognitions. His work on sequencing the DNA of the long-extinct woolly mammoth species was recognized by Science magazine in its "Breakthrough of the Decade" section in 2010. Science previously had named Schuster's research on the woolly mammoth as a "Breakthrough of the year" in 2008. In addition, Science recognized Schuster's work as a "Breakthrough of 2010" after he and his colleagues sequenced the complete genomes of two southern-African individuals — an indigenous hunter-gatherer tribal leader from the Kalahari Desert and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Bantu. Schuster also was listed by Time magazine as one of the "World's top 100 most influential people" in 2009 and Time named his work on woolly-mammoth hair as one of the "Top 10 Scientific Discoveries" of 2008. In 1992, Schuster was awarded an Otto Hahn Medal from the Max Planck Society in his native country of Germany.

Schuster has published over 100 scientific papers in journals such as Nature, BMC Bioinformatics, PLoS One, Nature Genetics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, he wrote a chapter for the book, "Molecular Genetics of Helicobacter," published by Horizon Scientific Press in 2008. He has given numerous invited seminars at universities and institutions in the United States, Germany, and other European countries.

Schuster received a doctoral degree in biochemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in 1990. He received bachelor's degrees at the University of Konstanz in Germany and the Technical University in Munich, Germany, in 1987 and 1982, respectively.


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Last Updated July 19, 2011