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   BIOINFORMATICS & EVOLUTION
       

groupJust about everyone knows that DNA contains the master code for life.  But have you ever wondered how the code itself came to be?  Dr. William Duax has, and his research at HWI using the science of bioinformatics to study evolution of the genetic code has inspired many Buffalo-area high school students to think seriously about science and become an intern at HWI.

One day, while working on another project, Dr. Duax discovered that the DNA coding for certain proteins was unusual because it contained a high percentage of just two, guanine (G) and cytosine (C), of the four nucleotides normally found in DNA.  It turns out that, not only is the DNA for certain proteins rich in G and C in all species, but also the entire DNA for certain bacteria is GC rich.

studentsDr. Duax made the hypothesis that GC-rich DNA is a holdover from an earlier time when the "standard" genetic code that we observe in higher organisms today was not yet fully evolved.  He and his high school assistants have been busy testing this hypothesis. 

The Duax team has been conducting an in-depth study of a species of soil-dwelling bacteria that they have nicknamed "Adhal".  The Adhal genome contains almost 75% GC nucleotide base pairs.  Their work is exploring the idea that the modern genetic code evolved from a coding system that uses only half the code normally used by most organisms.

Student Accomplishments

garpFor one of the past high school students, Jimmitti Teysir, this project has turned out to be not only fun, but also rewarding — leading to several thousand dollars of scholarship money.

For other students, participation in the HWI research program has been a factor in gaining admission to colleges and universities of their choice.

During the spring of 2011, Duax students participated in several regional science fairs including the Tri-Region Science and Engineering Fair in Syracuse, the Western New York Science Congress, and the Intel ISEF competition in Los Angeles.

In past years, high school students have presented their work (1) at a regional college undergraduate math and science day in Niagara Falls, (2) to students in the University at Buffalo’s gifted math program, and (3) to a lay audience at the Saturn Club of Buffalo.

At the Saturn Club, the students contrasted the evolution of the genetic code with the evolution of human language. Dr. Duax commented, "The students' impressive ability to communicate the essence of their work to a broad audience including grade school students, college students, university professors and layman, will help the development of their education and professional careers."
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