CSG News

July 2016

Gonçalo Abecasis, Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics and GSTP faculty member, was named as a key researcher in President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) as one of four sub-awardees that will work with the Data and Research Support Center at Vanderbilt University. The aims of the research are to mine and organize data created from the PMI, develop tools to analyze the data, and protect those individuals who share their personal information.

May 2016

Brian Metzger, GSTP alumnus, was one of 10 recipients of the ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award for 2015, given in recognition of exceptional scholarship by doctoral students at the University of Michigan. Brian's thesis was "Disentangling the effects of mutation and selection on the evolution of gene expression." He is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago.

April 2016

Diane Flasch, GSTP trainee, received the Best Graduate Student Poster Award at the 2016 National Human Genome Research Institute Training and Career Development Meeting. Diane's poster was selected from more than 140 entries.

February 2016

Trisha Wittkopp, GSTP faculty member, was named a University of Michigan Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. Criteria for Thurnau professorships include a strong commitment to students and to teaching and learning, excellence in teaching, innovations in teaching and learning, a strong commitment to working effectively with a diverse student body, a demonstrable impact on students' intellectual or artistic development, and contributions to undergraduate education beyond the classroom, studio or lab. The professorships are named after alumnus Arthur F. Thurnau and supported by the Thurnau Charitable Trust. Wittkopp was recognized for her commitment to engaged pedagogy and student success.

December 2015

An international team of scientist that includes researchers from the University of Michigan has identified 16 new genetic variations for age-related macular degeneration, a neurodegenerative disease that involves a loss of sight in the center of the visual field, caused by damage to the retina. AMD is estimated to affect ~50 million people globally.

The International AMD Genomics Consortium also confirmed several previously reported AMD risk genes.  The consortium was able to prioritize candidate variants within identified risk loci, which will help to plan more efficient follow-up experiments. The research brings to 52 the number of identified common and rare variants associated with the disease that causes vision loss in people 50 and older. Together, these could explain up to 60 percent of the inherited genetic risk for the disease. The study's lead author, Lars Fritsche, Research Investigator at the Center for Statistical Genetics, said the large size of the sample along with advancements in genotyping technology allowed the study team to dissect the combined contributions of common and rare variants.

October 2015

Gonçalo Abecasis, Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics and GSTP faculty member, was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine.  Election to membership is based on distinguished professional achievement in a field related to medicine and health; demonstrated and continued involvement with the issues of health care, prevention of disease, education, or research; skills and resources likely to contribute to achieving the Academy's mission; and willingness to be an active participant in the work of the Academy.


Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Foundation for the NIH have launched an online library, called a knowledge portal, which allows open-access searching of human genetic and clinical information on type 2 diabetes. The portal includes information from several major international networks, collected from decades of research.

A product of the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) for type 2 diabetes, the portal is aimed at advancing type 2 diabetes research and treatment, and will include data from over 100,000 genetic samples obtained from clinical consortia supported by the NIH and FNIH. AMP is an innovative project of government, industry and nonprofit organizations working together to speed research in type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The portal collects data from human genetic samples, since the animal and cellular models that are typically used in diabetes drug development before human testing do not always replicate human behavior. The portal provides a way to identify the most promising therapeutic targets for diabetes from troves of potentially relevant human data.

The portal’s creation was led by David Altshuler, M.D., Ph.D., while at Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in Cambridge. Jose Florez, M.D., Ph.D., also from Broad Institute, and Michael Boehnke, Ph.D., and Goncalo Abecasis, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, were awarded respective grants from NIDDK and FNIH to continue the portal’s development.

In addition to NIH, support for the AMP Type 2 Diabetes project includes pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly and Company; Janssen Research and Development, LLC; Merck & Co.; Pfizer Inc.; and Sanofi US Services and the not-for-profit organizations FNIH, JDRF International and the American Diabetes Association. Support from these sources funds awards made by the FNIH directly to awardees institutions. Additional support to Broad Institute for the portal is provided by the Carlos Slim Foundation.

September 2015

Lacey Knowles, CSG and GSTP faculty, has been named the Robert B. Payne Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

May 2015

Why does schizophrenia happen, and how can we improve treatment for it? These basic questions persist despite years of research on one of the most puzzling, and debilitating, mental illnesses.  Now, a University of Michigan Medical School team and their colleagues will take a new approach to addressing these questions by searching for genetic clues in postmortem brain tissues of people with and without schizophrenia.

Instead of hunting for genetic problems that these individuals inherited from their parents, they'll be zeroing in on defects that arose during the individual's life - which a growing number of scientists think may be crucial to understanding many disorders, including schizophrenia.

Their work will be fueled by a $3.86 million, five year grant from the National Institute of Health, in collaboration with researchers at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.  Together they'll tackle the issue of "mosaicism" in schizophrenia - the idea that changes in the DNA of a person's individual brain cells, or in the DNA of their neural stem cells that give rise to brain cells, may contribute to schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia risk is higher in people who have a close relative with the disease, and scientists have identified a small number of gene mutations associated with the risk of schizophrenia. However, the genetic underpinnings of disease risk remain mysterious in a majority of schizophrenia patients.

At UM, the focus of the new project will be on bulk sequencing of DNA from many cells, in post-mortem brain samples derived both from people with and without schizophrenia, to search for evidence of somatic mosaicism. Colleagues at the other institutions will focus on different aspects of studying mosaicism in schizophrenia.

The team will study tissue from four brain regions implicated in schizophrenia, as well as dural fibroblasts, to look at the genetic "mosaic" that may influence risk of the disease. John Moran , the Gilbert S. Omenn Collegiate Professor of Human Genetics, leads the UM research team. He'll work with Jeff Kidd and Ryan Mills, Assistant Professors of Human Genetics and Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, and Kenneth Y. Kwan, Assistant Professor at the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute. Moran, Kidd and Mills are all GSTP faculty members.


Brian Metzger, GSTP alumna, had his paper "Selection on Noise Constrains Variation in a eukaryotic promoter" published in Nature, Volume 21, pages 344-347.  Brian is a PhD Student in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology working with Drs. Wittkopp and Zhang.

April 2015

Could your dad's fight with prostate cancer mean you may face the same reality? Perhaps your family has several members who have struggled with obesity and you've wondered if it's something inherited or if it's caused by the environment. Researchers at the School of Public Health want to know as well and now have an app for than. A new project that officially launched in April called Genes for Good could help them answer these question, while providing participants with a genetic profile that will include information on where their ancestors came from beyond the basic paper trail.

The Facebook app gives participants the chance to learn more about their health, behavior and ancestors. In return, those who fully participate provide genetics researchers with valuable data that can be used to better understand the origins of disease, which could lead day to better treatments, prevention and cures.

"It's really a research study that offers us a chance to engage with lots of people and get better information on behavior, environment and so on," said Gonçalo Abecasis, Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics and GSTP faculty member.

Through Facebook users fill out various health and behavior surveys. Once a certain amount of data is submitted each participant is sent a spit kit to provide a saliva sample for genetic analysis. The data collected through various questionnaires and results from the saliva samples will give genetic researchers more information to build on existing data. Abecasis and his lab have been involved in numerous genetic studies, and their work has contributed to a better understanding of diabetes, heart disease, addiction, obesity, macular degeneration, psoriasis and more.

March 2015

Whether you're baking bread or building an organism, the key to success is consistently adding ingredients in the correct order and in the right amounts, according to a new genetic study by University of Michigan researchers.

Using the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and GSTP faculty member, Trisha Wittkopp and her colleagues developed a novel way to disentangle the effects of random genetic mutations and natural selection on the evolution of gene expression. Their findings were published online in the journal Nature on March 16, 2015.

"These results tell us that the effects of mutations available for natural selection to act on can play a large role in how an organism evolves. The approach we developed allows us to test what those influences are and to better understand how evolution works," said Wittkopp.

The first authors of the Nature paper are EEB graduate student and GSTP alum Brian Metzger and former MCDB graduate student David Yuan, currently a postdoc at Stanford University.

February 2015

Researchers from the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium have linked some 140 spots in the human genome to body-mass index or waist and hip measurements. GIANT members from CSG include Liz Speliotes, GSTP Faculty member and Adam Locke, CSG post doctoral fellow.

In a paper appearing in Nature, the international consortium described their meta-analysis that drew on hundreds of thousands of people to uncover genetic loci associated with BMI or with waist and hip measurements, both of which are indicators of obesity and risk of related diseases like type 2 diabetes.

In the study, the researchers honed in on loci involved in the adipogenesis pathway. The BMI study also found a role for the central nervous system and other pathways, while the waist and hip circumference study noted differences in the effect of certain loci based on gender.