Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Big Data Allows Computer Engineers to Find Genetic Clues in Humans


Big data: It’s a term we read and hear about often, but is hard to grasp. Computer scientists at Washington University in St. Louis’ School of Engineering & Applied Science tackled some big data about an important protein and discovered its connection in human history as well as clues about its role in complex neurological diseases.

Through a novel method of analyzing these big data, Sharlee Climer, PhD, research assistant professor in computer science, and Weixiong Zhang, PhD, professor of computer science and of genetics at the School of Medicine, discovered a region encompassing the gephyrin gene on chromosome 14 that underwent rapid evolution after splitting in two completely opposite directions thousands of years ago. Those opposite directions, known as yin and yang, are still strongly evident across different populations of people around the world today.

Climer/Zhang, Washington University in St. Louis

Yin-yang haplotypes arise when a stretch of DNA evolves to present two divergent forms. A group of engineers at Washington University in St. Louis showed a massive yin-yang haplotype pair encompassing the gene gephyrin on human chromosome 14. This image shows the states for markers in the region for 934 individuals in eight global populations. Dark blue and red horizontal lines in the yin-yang region represent carriers of two yin and two yang haplotypes, respectively, and light blue represents carriers of both haplotypes.

The results of their research, done with Alan Templeton, PhD, the Charles Rebstock professor emeritus in the Department of Biology in the College of Arts & Sciences, appear in the March 27 issue of Nature Communications.

The gephyrin protein is a master regulator of receptors in the brain that transmit messages. Malfunction of the protein has been associated with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and other neurological diseases. Additionally, without gephyrin, our bodies are unable to synthesize an essential trace nutrient.

The research team used big data from the International HapMap Project, a public resource of genetic data from populations worldwide designed help researchers find genes associated with human disease, as well as from the 1000 Genomes project, another public data source of sequenced human genomes. In total, they looked at the genetic data from 3,438 individuals.

When they analyzed the data, they made an interesting discovery in a sequence of markers, called a haplotype, enveloping the gephyrin gene: up to 80 percent of the haplotypes were perfect yin and yang types, or complete opposites of the other. They were able to trace the split back to what is known as the Ancestral haplotype, or that of the most recent common human ancestor.

“We observed that the Ancestral haplotype split into two distinct haplotypes and subsequently underwent rapid evolution, as each haplotype possesses about 140 markers that are different from the Ancestral haplotype,” Climer says. “These numerous mutations should have produced a large number of intermediate haplotypes, but the intermediates have almost entirely disappeared, and the divergent yin and yang haplotypes are prevalent in populations representing every major human ancestry.”

Using the data from the HapMap Project, they looked at the gephyrin region in several populations of people, including European, East and South Asian, and African heritage, and found variations in the haplotype frequencies of each of these populations. Those from African origin generally have more yang haplotypes, while those of European origin have more yin haplotypes. Those of Asian descent have nearly equal numbers of yin and yang haplotypes.

Humans carry pairs of chromosomes, and 30 percent of Japanese individuals carry two yin haplotypes or two yang haplotypes. Another 30 percent of these individuals possess both a yin and a yang haplotype, reflecting the roughly equal probability of inheriting either one.

To find this pattern within the huge datasets, the research team used a novel method to assess correlations between genetic markers called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which are variations in a DNA sequence that make humans different from each other.

The team’s method, called BlocBuster, computes correlations between each pair of SNPs, then builds a network of those correlations. By observing the network, researchers can see clusters of correlated markers.

“For example, you could build a Facebook network using all of your Facebook friends,” Climer says. “If two of your friends are friends with each other, you would connect them in the network. If you see that a cluster of people is interconnected with each other, they probably share something in common, such as a family relationship, a school, or some type of social interaction. Similarly, with an efficient algorithm and an adequate number of processors and time, we can look at every pair of SNPs, build these networks and observe clusters of interconnected SNPs.

“The BlocBuster approach is a paradigm shift from the conventional methods for genome-wide association studies, or popularly known as GWAS, where one or a few markers were examined at a time,” Zhang says. “It is truly a data mining technique for big data like those from HapMap and 1000 Genomes projects.”

The researchers also can design this approach to look at complex traits and diseases.

“BlocBuster is able to detect combinations of networked genetic markers that are characteristic of complex traits,” Zhang says. “It is suitable for analyzing traits, such as body weights, which are determined by multiple genetic factors, and genetic patterns in populations, such as the yin-yang haplotypes we discovered.”

Ultimately, they expect this method will shed light on the genetic roots of disease.

“Most complex diseases arise due to a group of genetic variations interacting together,” Climer says. “Different groups of people who get a disease may be affected by different groups of variations. There’s not enough power to see most of these intricate associations when looking at single markers one at a time. We’re taking a combinatorial approach — looking at combinations of markers together — and we’re able to see the patterns.”

Climer S, Templeton A, Zhang W. Human gephyrin is encompassed within giant functional noncoding yin-yang sequences. Nature Communications, March 27, 2015. 6:6534 doi: 10.1038/ncomms7534 (2015).

Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health (P50-GM65509, RC1-AR058681, R01-GM086412 and R-01-GM100364), the National Science Foundation (DBI-0743797) and the municipal government of Wuhan, Hubei, China.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.

Contact Information
Julie Flory
Asst Vice Chancellor for Campus Communications

Julie Flory | newswise

Further reports about: Big Data Communications Genetic HapMap Zhang computer science genetic data haplotype markers

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Fraunhofer FIT joins Facebook's Telecom Infra Project
25.10.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions
21.10.2016 | Stanford University

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>