Kenneth Chiou receives grand prize in NGS discovery funding contest

Next-Generation Sequencing Award

This July, NGX Bio released an opportunity for any graduate student, postdoc, or biotech startup to win a grant that could be used for a sequencing project. The project could be in any field of genomics research and involve any sequencing technology. Kenneth Chiou, a primate biologist graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, and Dr. Christina Bergeey, from Penn State University, received the grand prize of $5k to support their research. 

Kenneth Chiou's research centers on the intersection of behavior, ecology, and genetics. He is interested in the evolution of populations; in particular, he aims to understand how demography, behavior, and local adaptation contribute to the past and present spatial distribution of genetic variation in primates. For his Ph.D. dissertation, Kenneth is conducting a population genomic study of two baboon species in Zambia,  Kinda (Papio kindae) and gray-footed chacma (Papio ursinus griseipes) baboons. As the two species interbreed, alleles are exchanged between species. His research provides an opportunity to evaluate how social and ecological factors influence genetic structure in this hybrid zone. He hopes this study will serve as a model for understanding the mechanisms and outcomes of hybridization in humans using a baboon analogy.

Dr. Christina Bergey's research focuses on how genetic material is transferred between populations and species, and the behavioral, ecological, and anthropogenic factors that affect such gene flow. She uses genomics and bioinformatic techniques to study population genetics, mostly in humans and other primates. Her current major project uses genomic techniques to investigate human adaptations to life in the rainforests of Africa, including the evolution of small body size (the 'pygmy' phenotype) in rainforest hunter-gatherers.

We asked Kenneth how they would be using this grant to further their research.

The ability to sequence genomes from feces is highly useful for endangered or elusive animals. State-of-the-art genome sequencers provide the technological capacity for generating billions of bases of DNA data from feces, but an overwhelming proportion of the DNA in feces is of bacterial origin and is therefore not useful for genetic studies of host animals. This simple technical issue has effectively precluded the use of genomic technologies for many wild animal species. Previously, I collaborated with Dr. Christina Bergey of Penn State University to develop a method for removing contaminating DNA from animal feces. We then used genome complexity reduction techniques to sequence tens of thousands of variable genetic markers in baboons from noninvasively obtained fecal samples. For this current project, we aim to sequence for the first time a complete "high-quality" genome from a low-quality noninvasively obtained fecal sample of an endangered western lowland gorilla.

To read more on Kenneth Chiou and his research, please visit his website.

NGX Bio is a company focused on solving the fragmented next-generation sequencing landscape by providing services that help researchers accomplish sequencing projects in a single transaction. They strive to help guide genomic researchers toward the most appropriate sequensing solution for their particular needs, weighing the pros and cons of each approach. To read more about NGX Bio, please visit their website.