In the case of the groundbreaking research conducted by members of the Thomson Lab, bioinformaticians are focused on narrowing down the critical bits of genetic material from among tens of thousands of developmental instructions in the human genome that direct the induction of pluripotent stem cells through the early stages of differentiation.
An example of the type of information the Stewart Bioinformatics Group focuses on is the Next- Generation DNA sequencing data produced by the lab’s Illumina HiSeq 3000 System. This sequencer can generate over 2 billion base pairs of sequence in one 48-hour run and represents more than 1 terabyte of undeciphered text and image information. Buried in this explosion of data may be information on important proteins that control which genes get turned on or off in embryonic stem cells or their derivatives. Using the tools of bioinformatics, it is possible to produce a list of activated genes that may play a role in regeneration, development or pluripotency and pave the way to future discoveries in the field of regenerative biology.
Ron Stewart and his colleagues in the Stewart Bioinformatics Group at the Morgridge Institute were key contributors in the quest to identify specific genes that are expressed in human embryonic stem cells but not in other cells. Their work was critical in the Thomson Lab breakthrough of creating embryonic-like stem cells from adult skin cells, thus providing a method for making blank-slate pluripotent cells without harming embryos.
The Regenerative Biology platform of the Morgridge Institute for Research relies on the full integration of the Bioinformatics Group, a unique feature of the Institute. The collaborative philosophy among members of the Thomson Lab, which includes its bioinformaticians, is one of the reasons the laboratory has succeeded in overcoming technical hurdles and achieving groundbreaking results.