Chapman University seniors, Maheen Kibriya and Shehzein Khan, are presenting at the 11th Annual Rocky Mountain Bioinformatics Conference in Colorado – a conference of the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) which is the largest international organization in computational biology.

Integrating Biology and Computer Programming

What makes this presentation unique – aside from the fact that they are undergraduate students presenting at a major conference – is that Maheen and Shehzein (both biology majors) have been able to integrate their knowledge of biological sciences and computer programming to develop several algorithms in bioinformatics.

Consequently, they have demonstrated the basic computational skills currently in demand in the field of computational biology and translational medicine. These skills are invaluable given the present direction of medical diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

Specifically, they are presenting their work on how they used the Python programming language to write codes to implement several nucleotide and protein sequence algorithms. They further implemented a simplified experiential for a well-known algorithm (BLAST) in computational biology – they called their version of the algorithm and its implementation “Mini-BLAST”.

“This is because protein sequences (and their corresponding three-dimensional structures) provide a wealth of information about disease etiology,” said Shehzein.

Maheen further stressed that “the information proteins provide leads to a better understanding of how the human body functions; and that variation in protein sequences and structures give rise to certain diseases in humans.”

Key Quality: Biology Undergrads Who Code

While taking an introductory computer science class this fall, they extended their class project and, on the advice of their instructor, Louis Ehwerhemuepha, submitted an abstract of their project for poster presentation at the conference. To everyone’s surprise and delight, their work caught the eyes of the conference organizers and they were selected to give both a poster and an oral presentation.

With career goals in medicine and research, both Maheen and Shehzein are excited, because they feel equipped with the basic tools to understand more complicated computational problems in biology and if need be develop their own novel methods in the future.

Louis noted that “a key quality that sets out an undergraduate student in the biological sciences is the ability to code and their computational skills in general. Therefore, both students have demonstrated skills that would set them apart from and ahead of any of their counterparts with little or no such skill.”

For more information about the conference, please visit http://www.iscb.org/rocky2013

About Maheen Kibriya

Maheen Kibriya, the first author of the work, is currently pursuing her Bachelors of Science degree as a senior Biological Sciences major and Peace Studies minor at Chapman University. In addition to a being full-time pre-medical undergraduate student, some additional academic activities she partakes in include: Co-President of Beta Beta Beta research-based biological honors society, Surgical Intensive Care Unit student volunteer at Mission Hospital, undergraduate research assistant at UCI School of Medicine Institute for Immunology, and member of American Medical Student Association.

About Shehzein Khan

Shehzein Khan, the second author of the work, is currently pursuing her Bachelors of Science degree as a Biological Sciences major at Chapman University. In addition to a being full-time pre-medical undergraduate student, some additional academic activities she partakes in include: secretary of the largest honor society on campus, NSLS, child life volunteer at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and partaking in undergraduate research on molecular biology at University of California, Irvine.