ISCB Announces Top Bioinformatics Awards for 2009 Print
Written by Sebastian Bassi   
Sunday, 15 March 2009 06:38

Webb Miller and Trey Ideker to receive top international bioinformatics awards for 2009 from the International Society for Computational Biology

The International Society for Computational Biology has named Webb Miller of Pennsylvania State University, USA as winner of its Accomplishment by a Senior Scientist Award for 2009, and the 2009 Overton Prize, for scientists in early- to mid-career, will go to Trey Ideker of the University of California, San Diego, USA. 


Webb Miller began his career at Penn State in the late 1960’s as a computer scientist. By the time he entered the emerging field of bioinformatics in 1987 he was already a full professor there. Initially, his research revolved around developing algorithms for aligning pairs of DNA or protein sequences; he worked on the algorithms that were used in the BLAST program for searching databases for similar sequences, which is still one of the most widely used bioinformatics tools worldwide. His interests then changed to methods for aligning long DNA sequences and extracting functional information from them. Miller has made important contributions to the analysis of many vertebrate genomes including those of the mouse, chicken and rhesus macaque. He collaborated with David Haussler – his immediate predecessor as ISCB Senior Scientist Accomplishment Award winner – in the development of sequence-alignment software for the UCSC Genome Browser, which now provides access to about fifty complete genome sequences. Haussler praised Miller on being named for the 2009 award by saying, “Webb has played an essential role in nearly every vertebrate genome sequence project: he developed the first program capable of accurate comparative alignment for entire vertebrate-sized genomes.” Miller’s recent research interests include the bioinformatics of species extinction, and in November 2008 he published a paper in Nature that described a draft sequence for the woolly mammoth genome. In 2004 he was appointed to a chair in biology alongside the chair appointment he already held in computer science.

Established in 2003, ISCB’s Accomplishment by a Senior Scientist Award recognizes members of the computational biology community who have made major contributions to the field through research, education, service, or a combination of the three. Miller will be joining a prestigious group of previous winners, which includes David Sankoff (University of Ottawa, Canada), David Lipman (US National Center for Biotechnology Information, USA), Janet Thornton (European Bioinformatics Institute, UK), Mike Waterman (University of Southern California, USA), Temple Smith (Boston University, USA) and David Haussler (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA). 

Trey Ideker also started his career as an engineer and computer scientist. A burgeoning interest in molecular biology led him to join a graduate program in molecular biology run by Leroy Hood, founder of the Institute of Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington. There, he began to model and analyse networks of molecular interactions using genome-scale measurements, an emerging field in which he became a pioneer. He was still a Ph.D. student when, in 2001, he published a classic paper demonstrating how biological networks are mapped and tested using a systems biology approach that has attracted well over 800 citations to date. He then took a fellowship at the prestigious Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts before joining the faculty at UCSD in 2003, where he is now an associate professor. In recent years, Ideker has developed a number of influential bioinformatics methods and resources including Cytoscape, a widely used open source program for visualising molecular networks.  In 2003, his group was the first to demonstrate that protein networks can be aligned and compared across species, just like genome sequences. Since then, he has extended network comparison to incorporate many different interaction types, and used network-based methods to map the DNA damage response, compare host and pathogen networks, and classify diseases.  He has already received many honours and was recognised as one of the top 10 innovators of 2006 by MIT’s Technology Review. Aviv Regev, the 2008 ISCB Overton Prize winner, commends the selection of Ideker for the 2009 award. "Trey's work has epitomized the power of integrating innovative computational methods with cutting-edge genomics. His pioneering work has set a model for doing systems biology that has been followed by numerous groups and has impacts for understanding the evolution of biological systems and for treating disease".

The Overton Prize was established in 2001 in memory of G. Christian Overton, a major contributor to the field of bioinformatics and member of the ISCB Board of Directors who died suddenly the previous year. The prize is awarded for outstanding accomplishment to a scientist in the early- to mid-career who has already made a significant contribution to the field of computational biology. Previous recipients are Christopher Burge (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, USA), David Baker (University of Washington, USA), W. James Kent (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA), Uri Alon (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel), Ewan Birney (European Bioinformatics Institute, UK), Mathieu Blanchette (McGill University, Canada), Eran Segal (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel), Aviv Regev (The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, USA).

ISCB Award recipients are selected from among nominations received from the computational biology community. The awards committee thoroughly reviews the merits of all nominees and unanimously decides on a recommendation of each award winner to be approved by the ISCB president.  Both awards will be presented at the Society’s prestigious Annual International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB), being held jointly with the European Conference on Computational Biology (ECCB) in Stockholm, Sweden, June 29–July 2.