Seeing the Tree and the Forest: Understanding Individual and Population Variation in Biology, Medicine, and Society

Individuals differ in a myriad of ways, from their genetics to their lifetime health. Understanding this variation is fundamentally important for promoting the success of individuals and the populations within which they live.

Although much of natural, medical, and social science research seeks to understand the causes and consequences of variation, the similarities among these disciplines are often obscured by differences in language, methodology, knowledge, and specialized application of results.

For example, it is now feasible to measure the expression of all genes in a sample, including from the brains of research animals (e.g., rodents, fish) and the cancerous tumors of patients. The biologists and medical researchers undertaking this work are faced with the challenge of analyzing and interpreting the expression of tens of thousands of genes. Gains in understanding of one population’s genetic variations could greatly impact studies in another population, but these parallel efforts remain largely divided along traditional research boundaries.

The Population Variation Pop-Up Institute will bring together experts from UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, and Dell Medical School to:

  1. identify the most promising questions about individual and population variation,
  2. establish a unique and comprehensive research plan, and
  3. develop solutions to shared problems that limit progress (e.g., Big Data analysis).

By aligning similar research efforts across disciplines, this Institute will establish a lasting framework for novel collaborations to conduct transformative research with real-world, positive outcomes for humans and society. The Institute will commence with a symposium, open to the entire campus community, that highlights the Institute’s goals and ongoing research. Workshops and rotating working groups will produce high-impact review papers and grant proposals for funding after the Institute is over. Video and other multimedia will be used to publicize the Institute’s work for fundraising and recruiting purposes. Finally, trainee professional development will take place throughout all stages of the Institute.

Principal Team

Pop-Up Institute Leader:

Hans Hofmann, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Director, Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, College of Natural Sciences

Principal Team:

  • Tessa Solomon-Lane, Department of Integrative Biology, College of Natural Sciences
  • Molly Bray, Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Natural Sciences
  • Mike Daniels, Department Statistics and Data Sciences, College of Natural Sciences
  • Mark Hayward, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts
  • Vishy Iyer, Department of Molecular Biosciences, College of Natural Sciences
  • Chris Webb, Dell Medical School

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