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Campus News
     
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue:  June 3, 2002
Volume 37, Number 21

Williams receives Sloan fellowship
Research leads to better food and drug problems

By Michael Padilla

Tiffani WilliamsUNM Post-Doctoral student Tiffani Williams has been awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Post-doctoral Fellowship in Computational Molecular Biology for two years. Twenty-six past Sloan Fellows have become Nobel Laureates.

Williams will work with School of Engineering Professors Bernard Moret, Computer Science, and David Bader, Electrical and Computer Engineering. She also taught a course in computer science at UNM last spring.

Williams’ research is in the area of phylogenetic reconstruction, the inference of the evolutionary history of a collection of organisms. The relationships are graphically represented by as a phylogenetic tree, where modern organisms are placed at the leaves, ancestral organisms occupy internal nodes, and the edges of the tree denote the evolutionary relationships. Such reconstructions are based on molecular data such as DNA sequences collected from present-day species and on a hypothesized model of evolution. From a computational standpoint, phylogeny reconstruction is enormously expensive. Williams will use high-performance computers to increase the speed of existing phylogeny reconstruction algorithms.

“Basically my research will reconstruct evolutionary trees and find out how they all relate,” Williams said.

She said that the research will lead to the development of better drugs and products. Agricultural laboratories use phylogenetic research to produce better strains of basic foods such as rice or wheat.

In addition, public health researchers use phylogenies to track the spread of various strains of the HIV virus (the cause of AIDS). Pharmaceutical companies use them to identify likely drug targets.