Playing by the (Genetic) Numbers

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By Jen A. Miller

CHARALAMPOS (BABIS) PAPACHRISTOU, PhD, associate professor
of statistics, is a numbers guy, PAPACHRISTOUspecifically a genetics numbers guy, which is why he came to USciences. Since he’s been here, he’s found that his analytical skills can be used in almost every area of research—“biological sciences, genetics, engineering,” he said.

Genetics is a focus, though. “We’re working with DNA data to try and create statistical methods for
identifying regions in our DNA that could potentially harbor some kind of disease,” he said. “We’re trying to identify where exactly on the DNA a gene would be [in order] to direct a biologist to start working.”

In one current, four-year project, he is examining the DNA of members of the Hutterite community, a small religious group located in the Dakotas of the U.S. and parts of Canada.

His team selected this group for a few reasons: First, Hutterites largely marry within their religion, which means that out of a group of 1,500 people, everyone can be tracked back to 27 common ancestors. Second, their recordkeeping has been extremely detailed, so researchers could easily track their lineage. Third, the group lives a very communal lifestyle, which nearly eliminates many other factors, like their environment or diet, that could affect expressed traits.


Quote7The study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, started in 2011 and runs through 2016. The focus of the grant is specifically on locating the place in DNA that could control the development of asthma, but the team has also published papers on the likely location of genes controlling the development of type 2 diabetes as well.

He is also working on projects that would help tailor approaches to encourage patients with HIV and hepatitis to complete their treatment programs and that study air quality measurements for school districts to determine if green schools positively affect students’ performance and quality of life.

While Dr. Papachristou came to USciences because he saw it as a place that would be a good fit for his research, he wanted to work with students, too. “I do very much like teaching, so I wanted to be at a place where I could do both at the same time,” he said.

His passion for teaching was recognized by his students as they selected him to be the recipient of the 2013 Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.




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