Jessica Mar

From Santa Fe Institute Events Wiki

G'day! I'm Jess from Harvard University in Boston, USA. I'm doing my PhD at the Biostatistics Department (starting Year 4 in the Fall), and I do research in genomics and systems biology. I'm based at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. At unequal stages of maturation, my research interests include: molecular evolution of viruses, statistical computing, molecular phylogenetics, gene expression microarrays, microRNA and studying stochastic influences in molecular biology. I love traveling, running and I am looking forward to meeting you all soon! :-)

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Here's a pic of me and my "little" bro! :-)

My 5 answers are listed here -

1. What topics do you have some expertise in and would you be willing to help others learn them?

My research experience is in genomics. I would be very happy to give a broad overview of genomics if other people would like to learn about it. I could also give talks on gene expression microarrays, why and how these experiments have captured the attention of the molecular biology world and the statistical aspects that arise in analyzing this kind of data. And finally, if anyone wants to learn about the statistical programming language R, and how to do neat things with it, I am keen to give a talk about this too.

2. What do you want to learn at the CSSS?

My primary interest is in modeling a single cell as a complex system. There are many different types of genomic data that one can use to construct a complex system. For this system, I have a lot of questions I want to ask of it, and from the CSSS I would love to learn most how to extract scientifically sound answers to these questions. For instance, how do complex systems respond to noise and perturbations? Can I model how a complex system behaves over time?

3. Do you have any projects or research interests that would benefit from an interdisciplinary approach?

Calling all quantum physicists, and experts on statistical mechanics and thermodynamics! I would welcome long discussions with people who have had this kind of training as I am currently thinking about modeling the energy paths and landscapes that single cells traverse in transforming from one cellular state to another. This has potential applications to understanding how diseases progress, particularly cancer. One theory on how tumors are born (tumorigenesis) is based on the idea that a single normally healthy cell is triggered by some unknown event (sometimes a carcinogen), and morphs into a cancerous cell. This then disrupts this cell’s ability to communicate with neighboring cells and the end result is a tumor.

4. Do you have any ideas for what sort of project you would like to do this summer?

Modeling intra-cellular dynamics (in English: trying to capture biological processes using complex systems). If we can come up with an adequate model, then we can make predictions about how biological processes will respond under different conditions (such as molecular perturbations, noise) and over periods of time.

5. Suppose you could travel one-hundred years in the future and ask researchers any three questions. What would those questions be?

What’s the molecular strategy behind your most effective virus vaccine?

Do we understand yet (if at all), how stochastic noise in gene expression contributes to disease progression?

Did insights arising from modeling cancer as a complex system eventually influence patient treatment regimes and drug discovery and result in a more positive outcome for the patient? (I guess that's really 2 questions...) :-)