Press Release May 15, 2013

Stanford University bioinformatics scientist joins The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine

Farmington, Conn. – Duygu Ucar, Ph.D., a computational scientist who mines genetic databases in search of factors that regulate gene expression, is joining the faculty of The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) for Genomic Medicine.

The Turkish-born Ucar started her academic career in computer science, earning a B.S at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, and a Ph.D. at the Ohio State University in Columbus. She earned a National Science Foundation Computing Innovation postdoctoral fellowship in the University of Iowa’s internal medicine department.

Ucar joins JAX Genomic Medicine from her second postdoctoral appointment at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., in the laboratories of Anne Brunet, Ph.D., and Julie Baker, Ph.D.

Ucar’s interest is in the dynamic regulation of gene expression. Every cell in the body contains 46 chromosomes, which contain all of our genetic material. The chromosomes are made up of chromatin, composed of DNA entwined on a protein scaffolding, with other molecules attached at specific places. While genes basically come “pre-programmed” to create proteins and do other work, many factors can affect gene expression—regulating how much protein an individual gene produces or simply whether it is turned on or off. For example, clusters of molecules known as methyl groups can attach to the chromatin and silence some genes. These so-called epigenetic changes can last an individual’s lifetime and even be passed on to future generations.

“I am particularly interested in the interaction between epigenetic chromatin states and gene regulatory elements for the control of gene expression,” Ucar says. She develops algorithms to integrate and mine genetic and epigenetic datasets.

As an assistant professor, Ucar will join six other principal investigators already based at JAX Genomic Medicine. “The Jackson Laboratory is a very collegial and supporting environment to start a lab, full of resources and great researchers. I am very happy and excited about being part of this environment. As a computational biologist, I am also very excited to have the opportunity for my research to reach out to the bigger audiences and to have an impact on human health.”