Researchers from computer science and biology at Colorado State University have teamed up to pursue an important goal — understanding alternative splicing, a fundamental biological process by which a gene can function in different ways under different conditions.
At this year’s Celebrate! Colorado State Awards, computer science Professor Asa Ben-Hur and biology Professor Anireddy SN Reddy were recognized for their work, along with over 60 people from across the University.
The annual Celebrate! Colorado State Awards honor the teaching, research and service achievements of CSU students, alumni and friends, academic faculty, administrative professionals and classified staff.
Ben-Hur and Reddy received the team Interdisciplinary Scholarship Award granted by the CSU Vice President for Research, which included a plaque and $10,000. Awards were given to one individual and two teams whose interdisciplinary scholarship has had a major national and/or international impact or demonstrates the potential to do so.
Collaborating to understand biological data
The science of biology generates massive amounts of data, and analyzing it all requires sophisticated computational methods. Making the most out of biological data requires close collaboration between biologists and computer scientists — from designing and interpreting experiments to generating predictions that require biological verification.
Reddy studies how plants sense and respond to the environmental and hormonal signals that regulate their cellular processes, growth and development. While Ben-Hur looks at how to use machine learning to help biologists understand complex data sets.
Together, they are working to understand the process of alternative splicing in plants, including Arabidopsis — the lab mouse of the plant world — Sorghum and other crop species. Sorghum is an important agricultural and bioenergy crop used for food, feed, fiber and fuel.
Plant stresses, such as drought or disease, can significantly reduce crop yield. Once the team unravels the splicing code and developmental cues and stresses that affect it, scientists can manipulate how plants respond to the environment.
“Our research has important applications, from creating drought-tolerant crops to understanding disease processes in humans,” Ben-Hur said. “We are giving people the tools to engineer the response to changing environments.”