Felix Francis receives Interdisciplinary Research Prize at doctoral hooding ceremony

Five graduating doctoral students received prizes at the University of Delaware’s doctoral hooding ceremony, held Friday, May 25, for their dissertations. The culmination of long hours of research, meticulous documentation and analysis, these scholarly works present students’ original findings to a field of study, and to the world.

Honorees and their awards are Alexander Ames, Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities; Kamilah Williams, George Herbert Ryden Prize in Social Sciences; Axel Moore, Allan P. Colburn Prize in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences; Christopher Long, Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences; and Felix Francis, Interdisciplinary Research Prize.

Francis was awarded the Interdisciplinary Research Prize for his dissertation, Characterization of Genomic Diversity at a Quantitative Disease Resistance Locus in Maize using Improved Bioinformatic Tools for Targeted Resequencing.

Felix Francis receives Interdisciplinary research prize at doctoral hooding ceremonyHis dissertation shines a light on the specific genes associated with disease resistance in corn (maize), a staple crop in agriculture, but it is the tools he developed to reproduce accurate DNA sequence data for specific segments of large and complex genomes that will have a long-lasting impact on his field. These tools include novel bioinformatics and statistical methods that advance plant genomic data analysis and will enable genomics researchers and practitioners to address important biological questions related to human health, agricultural breeding, infectious disease management, biodiversity conservation and more.

J. Antoni Rafalski, a biotechnology consultant and former senior research assistant at DuPont, called Francis’ work “an excellent example of interdisciplinary research” that will be “an example to follow for future students of biology, which is increasingly becoming intertwined with advanced computer science.”

Cathy H. Wu, Unidel Edward G. Jefferson Chair in Engineering and Computer Science and founding director of UD’s new Data Science Institute, agreed.

“The bioinformatics algorithms, software tools and benchmarking data sets he has developed will have broad impact to the genomic scientific community, allowing researchers to address many important biological questions,” Wu wrote.

According to his adviser and dissertation chair, Randall J. Wisser, the bioinformatics algorithms and software Francis developed to precisely isolate targeted DNA already are having an impact on researchers and practitioners across the country.

“This tool is useful for a range of applications in genetics and genomics, and a number of researchers outside of UD (across the U.S.) have already begun adopting it,” wrote Wisser, an associate professor in plant and soil sciences.

Article by Karen Roberts

Photo by David Barczak, Wenbo Fan and Jessica Eastburn

To read more about the other award winners, check out the full article on UDaily.