Miller wins international award in bioinformatics

March 30, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Webb Miller, Penn State professor of biology and of computer science and engineering, has won the 2009 Accomplishment by a Senior Scientist Award given by the International Society for Computational Biology. Established in 2003, the award recognizes computational biologists who have made major contributions to the field through research, education, service, or a combination of the three.

Miller's research focuses on the development and use of computational tools to address a variety of problems in the biological sciences. In particular, he develops and applies methods to compare DNA or protein sequences. Early in his bioinformatics career, he worked on the computer algorithms that were used in BLAST, the most widely used tool for searching databases of genetic sequences. His more recent work has focused on developing algorithms that align long sequences of DNA and on methods for extracting functional information from these sequences.

One of the problems to which he has applied his efforts is the investigation of gene regulation. In particular, he has collaborated with Ross Hardison Penn State's T. Ming Chu Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, to predict the location and properties of genomic signals that regulate gene transcription.

Miller also has worked with University of California colleagues David Haussler and Jim Kent to develop special software that can align genomes of different species regardless of the quality of the sequences. For example, initially Miller used the software to compare three genome sequences: a moderately well-assembled human genome, a mouse genome that was not very accurate, and a rat sequence that initially was relatively unreliable. These alignments, as well as others that Miller has produced, have been used by many other scientists in their research. In fact, his software recently has been used to align 44 vertebrate genomes, a number that is far beyond the software's original design specifications.

A third research area on which Miller focuses is the study of extinction. In particular, he has worked with Penn State Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Stephan Schuster to investigate the genomic properties that affect, or are affected by, the process of extinction of species. So far, he has focused on the extinct woolly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger and the endangered Tasmanian devil.

Miller began his career as an assistant professor of computer science at Penn State in 1969. In 1977, he became an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California at Santa Barbara and, in 1979, he was promoted to professor. In 1981, he took a position as a professor of computer science at the University of Arizona before returning to Penn State as a professor of computer science in 1985. In 2004, he obtained a joint professorial position in the Penn State Department of Biology. Miller earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics at Whitman College and master's and doctoral degrees in mathematics at the University of Washington.

Last Updated January 09, 2015