Berend Snel, Ph.D.
Evolutionary Genomics and Integrative Bioinformatics, Department of Biology, Utrecht University
"By combining detailed case studies with integrative approaches we aim to systematically map the various steps in the evolution of genomes."
1. What is the leading research theme in your group?
"The evolution of genomes on large time scales. We know that some genes duplicates, while other genes disappear. But why? What factors lead to a duplicate exhibiting new functionalities or, alternatively, cause it to act as a substitute for the 'parent' gene? How do duplication and deletion relate to protein complexes and the protein interaction network? What comes first: the disappearance of a gene, which leads to the disappearance of a protein and its corresponding interactions or is it the other way around? By combining detailed case studies with integrative approaches we aim to systematically map the various steps in the evolution of genomes and to study whether these steps are unique events or that they represent more general concepts."
2. With what type of groups or organisations do you collaborate most and why?
"We basically have three types of collaborations. The first is with other bioinformatics-oriented groups like those of Albert Heck and Frank Holstege here in Utrecht, where we tackle their data with our expertise on evolution. The second are plant research groups that are mainly interested in the biological function of certain genes and we support them by integrating data from different sources. And the third are groups active in plant or medical research that study individual proteins and are for example interested in orthologues, duplicants or where 'their' gene is located in the evolutionary tree of its gene family."
3. From your research perspective, what are the main challenges in bioinformatics right now?
"Difficult to say, because I have been facing some obstacles for almost ten years now. Such as the lack of functional data in contrast to the insane surge in sequence data, which at the same time generates of lot of interesting genomes that are very poorly annotated. But that is probably what everyone says."
4. What is the most important task of a group leader?
"It's like running your own small grocery store, a specialized one perhaps, but still you have to do it all. Discussing science, coaching, funding, networking, teaching, people management. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades."
5. How would you describe the atmosphere in your group?
"Right now, the group is very international, which has stimulated social interaction. Even though the content of the projects is quite different, as we're a small group, we all know what the other is doing and there is a real team spirit. It is a group of people passionate about science."