Reconstructing Evolution: The Mathematics of DNA
Dates: July 10-21, 2017
Have you ever wondered how we know chimpanzees are humans' closest relatives, closer than gorillas? How criminals can be linked to evidence at a crime scene? Whether virus samples from patients can be used to figure out who was the source of their infection? All these questions are now approached by sequencing and analyzing DNA, which undergoes changes as it is passed from parent to child, leaving bits of evidence of the past. But that record in the DNA can only be interpreted through mathematics, much of which is new and different from what you focus on in school.
Analyzing DNA means you work with probabilities (what is the chance two DNA samples match exactly?), geometric figures (how can the shape of a tree be used to show evolutionary relationships?), and algorithms (what steps should we perform to find the 'best' tree from some DNA sequences?) all at once. You'll use computers and pencil and paper --- but mostly your brain --- to unravel the stories hidden in sequences of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs, and answer the questions above, and others. You'll see how the ability to sequence DNA has led not only to new approaches to answering biological questions, but also to a new field where mathematical exploration is both fun and exciting.
Applicants should have completed at least two years of high school mathematics (or equivalent). Strongly motivated applicants with less preparation may be considered if space exists.
Apply here - Link only works during application period, February 1 through April 15
Meet the Instructors
Hector Banos, Ph.D. student, Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks
I grew up in Mexico and I have been in Alaska for 3 years now. Currently, I am working in a pretty interesting branch of biology, phylogenetics. I am more focused on the mathematical side of this beautiful area. It is amazing how we can relate fairly easy mathematical ideas and models and apply them to biology and other subjects! In my personal opinion, one of the most beautiful aspects of math is its applications. So we can talk about any math inquietude you have and work on really interesting problems on phylogenetics.
This will be my first time with ASRA, and I am really looking forward to work with you.
Katie Rubin, Master's Student, Department of Biology and Wildlife at the University of Alaska Fairbanks
“Nothing in biology makes sense without the light of evolution” (Theodosius Dobzhansky). Understanding evolution and its nuisances allow us to ask interesting questions and find meaningful answers in the study of our natural world. I’m a master’s student in the Biology and Wildlife program, and my research focuses on how marmots respond to climate change by studying their ability to disperse and adapt to new environments. My work is mostly field-based, but understanding the evolutionary history of marmots is necessary to predicting how they will cope with an uncertain future. I look forward to exploring the fascinating world of phylogenetics and its applications with you!