Science Magazine Highlights UA Student’s Genetics Research
Science magazine, arguably the world’s premier research journal for scientists, recently highlighted a University of Alabama undergraduate student’s efforts in constructing an online database on the genetics of epilepsy.
In a February issue of Science within the publication’s NetWatch “best of the web” section, the online database developed by Cody Locke, a junior UA biology major, was featured.
Playing off the Latin phrase carpe diem (seize the day), Locke’s database is known as CarpeDB, and Locke is giving scientists opportunity to seize the data … lots and lots of data.
Some 400 genes which are known to be associated with epilepsy, along with scores of genes whose involvement in epilepsy is suspected, are listed along with hundreds of associated scientific publications and abstracts. It also links to the actual DNA information from the Human Genome and genome projects from other organisms.
“We were hoping to fill a void in the epilepsy community,” said Dr. Guy Caldwell, UA assistant professor of biological sciences, who was the originator of the idea that Locke expanded, compiled and designed. “You can get all of this information from a variety of places, but not from one single source.
“It’s an interactive resource, meaning there’s a way for scientists and doctors to submit new data on genes they may have identified or new papers they may have published,” Caldwell said.
Within Caldwell’s lab, Locke researches the molecular basis for epilepsy, using the animal system, C. elegans, a microscopic roundworm. One of the goals of the database was to assist Caldwell’s lab in identifying new targets for the screening of potential epilepsy genes in worms, said Caldwell.
“The future of CarpeDB now depends on the epilepsy research community,” Locke said.
“I certainly want fellow epilepsy researchers to recognize the countless applications of CarpeDB to their studies, as it has certainly enhanced our understanding of the molecular basis of epilepsy in the Caldwell Lab,” the UA College of Arts and Sciences student said.
Caldwell said he envisions scientists putting Locke’s efforts to use.
“I see scientists using the database not only as a source to find out about other people working in the field but also as a way to enlighten and direct their own research. It includes genes from all species — everything from worms to humans.”
Located at http://www.carpedb.ua.edu/, the database’s origin goes back to when Locke was a freshman working in Caldwell’s lab and looking for a project for UA’s Computer-Based Honors Program in which Locke is enrolled.
Funded by a National Science Foundation CAREER award presented to Caldwell, the database is a reflection of Locke’s scholarly abilities, Caldwell said.
“Cody has taken this to a higher level than I thought was possible. It speaks to his thirst for knowledge and to his maturity, as a young scientist, to want to learn as much as possible about the field he’s working on. What’s more exciting, he wants to maintain it, and he wants to stay involved with it as he continues on to graduate school.”
Only a junior in college, Locke says he’s seen one of his professional dreams come true.
“Developing CarpeDB was one of the most challenging, yet enjoyable, experiences of my life,” Locke said. “Data mining for CarpeDB has taught me so much more about my work than I could have learned by merely scouring the multitude of online bioinformatics databases. Besides, it’s undoubtedly every scientist’s dream to see his or her work in Science.”
The database is included in the National Center for Biotechnology Information Molecular Biology Database Collection, published last month by the journal Nucleic Acids Research. “Our goal is to publicize this as much as possible so epilepsy researchers can use it,” Caldwell said. “It’s only as good as the extent it’s being used.”
Locke was one of five UA students recently named to the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team. UA led the nation, for the second time in three years, in total number of students making the team. This was the second year in a row for Locke to earn this recognition and the fourth consecutive year that a student from Caldwell’s lab has been named to this elite list of young scholars.
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