Graduate student wins 2015 iAwards with his DNA 'Bandage' program

September 15 / 166

Ryan Wick, winner of the national iAwards in the graduate student category for an innovative software program that analyses antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
Ryan Wick, winner of the national iAwards in the graduate student category for an innovative software program that analyses antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

 

Master of Science (Bioinformatics) student Ryan Wick has won the naional iAwards in the graduate student category for an innovative software program that analyses antibiotic resistance in bacteria, such as Salmonella.

Head of Department of Computing and Information Systems in the Melbourne School of Engineering, Professor Justin Zobel, said that Mr Wick’s award – a major national award specific to information technology – was well deserved.

“Ryan developed the software to analyse the microbial data he was gathering and showed a great deal of initiative in his minor thesis work,” Professor Zobel said.

Mr Wick is a student in the Holt group within the Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, and is supervised by Dr Kathryn Holt and Dr Mark Schultz from the Bio21Institute and the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, and Professor Justin Zobel, from Computing and Information Systems.

In his minor thesis, he analysed the bacterial genome – all of its DNA – in order to find the antibiotic-resistant mutations that give it a survival advantage.

The process of DNA sequencing chops up bacterial DNA into millions of small fragments. The challenge is then to put all the fragments back together again.

After asking his colleagues which computer programs they used to analyse the data, he was surprised to discover that there were none.

To overcome this challenge, Mr Wick set about creating the program that he needed to do the job.

“I wanted to make something I could use,” he explains. ‘Bandage’ (a Bioinformatics-Application-for-Navigating-De-novo- –Assembly-Graphs-Easily) is a program that makes it possible to put the pieces back together again.

‘Bandage’ represents the assembled DNA fragments, of varying length, in a visual way and shows which sequences potentially connect to which others.

“The image created by Bandage sometimes looks a bit like a tangle of rubber bands, hence the name,” explains Mr Wick.

Whether it is to discover antibiotic resistant genes in bacteria, or to find unique mutations in cancer cells that cause them to metastasize, the ‘Bandage’ program provides a means of visualising genomic data, to make it possible to observe patterns and to understand how genetic sequences fit together and influence each other.

Bandage is Open Source software, which can be used and downloaded free of charge. 

“I am excited that researchers are already using and modifying the software for their own unique situations,” Mr Wick said. 

“I actually felt a bit out of place at the iAwards, this invention is free and I did not set out to make a profit.”

Learn more about BANDAGE and download the program.

The iAwards recognise Australian achievements in technology innovations and are judged by the ICT industry.

Story by Annie Rahilly

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