Disentangling DNA: NSF-Simons Center welcomes Zoe Piran

October 1, 2019
Digital DNA

The human body is made of trillions of cells. Each cell contains the genome of that individual, a DNA string 3 billion letters long. Even if you could sequence every DNA base pair in every cell, would you be able to make sense of it?

Enter Zoe Piran, a PhD student in Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Piran has joined the NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology to tackle exactly this problem.

“It’s a truly overwhelming data set,” says Piran. “But if we could make sense of it, who knows what secrets we would find out.”

Armed with her expertise in computational biology and information theory, Piran is now disentangling these datasets in the lab of Dr. Mor Nitzan at Harvard University. Together, they hope to reveal how biological information is encoded within the genome.

“My research aims at uncovering design principles of development,” says Nitzan, a John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellow. “If we can figure out the strategies that cells use, we can use these insights to build and repair optimized cells and tissues.”

“These are truly absurd datasets,” says BN Queenan, Executive Director of Research at Harvard’s NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology. “It takes a huge amount of sophistication to disentangle the multiple layers of information held by a genome. So it’s hugely exciting to have these two minds working together to approach this fundamental problem of life.”