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Eric GankoSPIRE Fellow, Bioinformatics
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Originally from New York, I headed south to pursue my undergraduate degree at Eckerd College, a small, liberal arts school in St. Petersburg, FL. I chose Eckerd due in large part to a strong emphasis on teacher-student relationships, and it was there that I was inspired to pursue a scientific career. I've stayed in the South ever since. In 2004 I received my doctorate in genetics from the University of Georgia, and I started the SPIRE program shortly thereafter.
My research: In graduate school I began working on gene and genome evolution research projects in John McDonald's lab. I was intrigued by the idea that so-called junk DNA, especially retroviral-like sequences, could contribute to gene evolution. My approach to this research was bioinformatic-based, basically mining various databases to investigate the effect of endogenous retroviruses interacting with neighboring genes in the nematode worm, fruit fly, and mouse. This work led me to broader questions about gene and genome evolution.
As a postdoc at UNC I've been working on two genome evolution projects in Todd Vision's lab, one in yeast and the other in Arabidopsis. The yeast research is a collaborative project identifying and investigating the consequences of small genomic rearrangements (http://visionlab.bio.unc.edu/rearrangement.ptml). While individual small rearrangements have been identified in the past, new microarray tools now allow us to comprehensively identify small genomic differences (~500-1000bp size changes). This technology can be used to address topics such as the evolutionary effect of small chromosomal rearrangements from one generation to the next. The second project focuses on the model plant Arabidopsis, where I am investigating the retention of duplicate genes. Several evolutionary models concerning the retention of duplicate genes have been proposed, and with large gene expression datasets now freely available for Arabidopsis, these models are being tested.
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