Dr. Kimberly Reynolds, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, was recently awarded one of fourteen Moore Investigators in Data-Driven Discovery grants, which are designed to support interdisciplinary and data-driven investigators. The grants were awarded by the Palo Alto, California-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Science Program.
The awards are given to investigators in different fields, from astronomy and biology to computer science and statistics, and also include the foundation’s $60 million, five-year Data-Driven Discovery Initiative, which is one of the largest data science programs currently being privately funded. Reynolds will receive an unrestricted $1.5 million grant over five years.
“I am thrilled to be selected as one of the Gordon and Betty Moore Data-Driven Discovery Investigators,” said Dr. Reynolds, who is a professor at the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology and at the Department of Biophysics of the center. “This award will greatly further my research program, providing the support to pursue our most exciting ideas.”
Her studies are focused on evolutionary “design principles” for use in cellular systems, and she has been using statistical analyses of protein sequences and genomic data to advance her research in the laboratory she directs at UT Southwestern. Reynolds believes that through this approach she will be able to create a new method of understanding genomic information, which may provide new insights into the function of biological systems.
“My lab is developing analytical methods to compare genome information across species, with the basic idea that we can use this information to create statistical models for how cellular systems are built,” Reynolds explained. “In principle, knowledge of the statistical constraints underlying the design of cellular systems would provide practical rules for the engineering of pathways with industrial or medical relevance, and those rules would provide a context for understanding the molecular basis of disease-causing mutations.”
Having earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Rice University and a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of California, Berkeley, Reynolds moved to UT Southwestern for a postdoctoral fellowship on the evolution and engineering of allosteric communication between proteins. She is part of the Green Center’s primary faculty members, a list of prestigious associates that also includes 1988 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Johann Deisenhofer, as well as Rama Ranganathan, Reynold’s postdoctoral mentor and the Green Center Director.
“This award will give Kimberly considerable flexibility in establishing a really innovative new research program. In many areas of biology we are awash in data but don’t know what the data mean,” said Ranganathan, who is a professor of Biophysics and Pharmacology, and holds the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Chair in Biomedical Science. “The ability to analyze large datasets using new computational methods is going to be critical to our understanding of biology and medicine.”
Reynold’s mentor has also been working on the function and evolution of the complex biological systems, using a combination of both theory and experimentation in his lab. The researcher’s main goal is to understand how biological systems are built to simultaneously exhibit high-performance, robustness, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions without the usual tradeoffs seen in man-made engineered systems.
“This is the first time that someone at UT Southwestern has won an award of this nature in such a broad field of basic computational science. Usually these sorts of awards go to big, comprehensive universities with traditional physical science departments. This is very significant for us,” he added.
In addition to Reynolds, other scientists awarded by the foundation co-founded by Gordon Moore and his wife Betty “to create positive change for future generations,” include members of Carnegie Mellon University, Dartmouth College, North Carolina State University, Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, University of California — Davis, University of Chicago, University of Florida, University of Illinois, and the University of Washington.