The main subject of my research is to understand how Information is organized, distributed and compared in Biological Systems. We are specially fascinated by the possibility that the information present in DNA, RNA and Proteins can be digitalized. The process of converting information (i.e., different biological features) into their digital equivalents has the potential, we hypothesize, of simplifying the genome information as to allow us to uncover previously undetected informational patterns, while performing these complex computational comparisons with little effort. We call this new field: Digital Biology.
To test the viability of Digital Biology, we have recently developed a series of computational algorithms aimed at extracting and classifying the informational content present genomes (i.e., extracting their informasomes). Once digitalized, informasomes can then be easily compared in a computationally-efficient manner.
Digital Biology offers a new way to re-analyze an old problem, while potentially uncovering previously undetected informational patterns. It allows for the study of evolution from an informational-, not sequence-based point of view. This approach, has already allowed us to detect unexpected informational patterns present in the chromosomes of all organisms.
We believe that this approach will both simplify and amplify our ability to understand not only genome evolution, but also the field of comparative genomics. Although our initial work is being performed with animal genomes, we plan on to extend this powerful approach to the analysis of fungal, plants, and bacterial genomes.
Our Digital Biology work ideas emerged from my discovery of Meiotic Silencing in Neurospora crassa. Meiotic Silencing, are one of the most unusual, amazing and intriguing mechanisms observed in meiotic cells of eukaryotic organisms. Meiotic Silencing compares the information present in opposite homologous chromosomes in meiosis. Here, if a DNA segment is absent or highly mutated on the opposite homologous chromosome, the resulting "unpaired" DNA segment is targeted for silencing. This triggers the generation of small RNAs with homology to the affected region. These small RNAs, in turn, proceed to destroy mRNAs that have homology to the "unpaired" DNA region.