Intellectual Merit: Protein translation is one of the most fundamental and universally conserved biological processes. As a result, a detailed understanding of the steps involved remains a major research focus in molecular biology and cellular biology. Most knowledge of protein production is limited to results from laboratory experiments. However, if selection on translational errors and efficiency contribute to the evolution of the codons used to create a protein, it follows that genomic data will contain information on the nature and importance of these forces. A major challenge facing the scientific community is how to extract such information in an efficient and biologically meaningful manner. The goal of this research project is to develop statistical techniques that will allow scientists to efficiently extract and interpret this biologically important information from an organism's genome. The major outcomes of this work will include the ability to estimate key biological parameters, such as the direct cost of protein translation, the frequency at which different errors occur, and the average expression level of every gene within a genome.
Broader Impacts: This project will provide direct hands-on research training at the interface of mathematics and biology for students at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral levels. These students will present their results at local and regional meetings, including an Annual Undergraduate Research Conference hosted by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). In addition, the PIs will serve as mentors for undergraduates participating in an ongoing NSF-sponsored Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates and Veterinarians (REU/REV) program sponsored by NIMBioS. This REU/REV program actively promotes the involvement of students from underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.
This project is co-funded by the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, by the Evolutionary Processes Cluster in the Division of Environmental Biology, and by the Advances in Biological Informatics Cluster in the Division of Biological Infrastructure.