New Horizons in Bioinformatics

Lab Visit at the Huttenhower Lab, USA

Alba is associate scientist at the RU 5042 miTarget and doctoral researcher at the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB) / Kiel University (CAU). She received one of the four scholarships offered for junior researchers of the RU 5042 miTarget to join the group of Curtis Huttenhower, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, USA. He is  one of the key scientists of the National Institutes of Health NIH-driven Human Microbiome Project Phase I and II. By getting further training in computational methods and working jointly on a project, her aim was to better understand theoretical and practical statistical approaches of the microbiota and its interaction with the host.

Alba started her doctoral study in 2019 at IKMB, where she gained practical knowledge in analyzing shotgun metagenomic data from the gut microbiome that formed the core of her research. Winning a scholarship opened an opportunity to enrich her scientific work with more theoretical and methodological approaches. Scientists of the Huttenhower Lab are focused on understanding the function of microbial communities, particularly that of the human microbiome. Their aim is learning how to use the microbiome to predict disease onset, progression, and outcomes, as well as developing ways to modify it for health maintenance and therapy.

Planning to compare results obtained at IKMB with Huttenhower methodological findings, Alba chose to participate in the research project “Revealing gut and oral disease-associated microbiota in patients with Multiple Sclerosis”. In the framework of this project, she has got a chance to perform metatranscriptomics and viral analysis using bioinformatics tools and methods developed in the Huttenhower Lab and at the same time, deepen her knowledge in analyzing shotgun metagenomics data using read-based bioinformatics approaches in addition to assembly-based methods that she used to conduct at IKMB.

Interestingly, the key to successful accomplishment of this project was not only in understanding the intricacies of scientific content of the research but in interdisciplinary and intercultural communication. Harvard University is a world-renowned scientific center that generates advanced ideas and attracts high class scientists across the globe to perform cutting-edge research in a wide range of topics. Alba has got a chance to meet, collaborate and work closely with these researchers that taught her not only the best scientific practices but also soft skills. It is worth noting the welcome culture of Harvard folks, fellow doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers and especially, a friendly support and mentoring of Prof. Huttenhower.

Alba spent two months in Boston in late summer and early fall. The change in the seasons best describes the professional changes that have happened to Alba. Learning and discovering something new every day, meeting new people and sharing with them experiences and thoughts, enriched Alba with new knowledge and insights. Thanks to the scholarship and visiting program, Alba significantly improved her studies, brought to Kiel new practices, methods and left many impressions and friends on the other side of the ocean.

Author: Alba Troci

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