As a computer science professor at
"I see the opportunity for quantitative science to be applied to life sciences," he said. "Traditionally, life science problems have been answered by qualitative tools. We have the opportunity to work with multiple biological systems. My research interest is concerned with the interface of computer science, statistics and applied mathematics."
Most recently, Song and his doctoral student
Using real and computer-generated data, the pair created a software system to study biological systems. Their work earned them first place in the challenge, along with a
"Overall, our goal was to understand, at a molecular level, gene interaction; how cells divide and how they can cause tumor tissues to grow uncontrollably," Song said. "We want to know what genetic factors lead to this cell proliferation."
Song's interest in computational biology began when he was a graduate student at the
"Somehow, the life science problems caught my eye; that's how I first got into computational biology," he said. "I'm always interested in developing new methodology to detect useful information from data. That's the main theme of my work and that hasn't changed, even though I work with different applications. The most rewarding aspect is when I see application of my work in my collaborators' research projects that come up with potential explanations for how biological systems work.
"I really enjoyed the experiences of having been educated in both
Part of the challenge Song encounters in his research includes coming up with creative and innovative approaches to the problems he tries to solve. He attributed Zhang's and his success at the DREAM8 challenge to creativity.
Like his mentor, Zhang is an alumnus of the
"This system we developed can apply to a lot of different network scenarios," Zhang said. "We're not trained as biologists, but right now, we're trying to figure out how genes interact with each other. There are many life science problems (such as treating HIV and breast cancer) that don't have a satisfactory solution yet. With the power of computers, we are trying to approach those genetic markers that may reveal where a goldmine may be located."
Song said he encourages students to consider careers in computational biology, a field that offers many opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.
"Computational biology may not seem obvious, because its presence is not yet in a typical daily life's experience," he explained." Some students come to computer science with an interest in game design, because they have experienced playing games. Many do not realize the opportunities in computational biology. I personally believe there is huge potential for personal genomic information to be used in very creative ways. I predict that it is going to be significantly involved in our daily lives in the future."
Zhang said he hopes to continue doing research even after he graduates.
In addition to their DREAM8 winnings, Song and Zhang have received funding for their research from the
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