Instructor, Department of of Oral Medicine, Infection and Immunity, Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Scientific research today is truly interdisciplinary—computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering all play an important role in the life sciences. Tsute Chen’s work illustrates how far research has evolved and its integration with different disciplines. As Forsyth’s leading bioinformatics expert, Chen is responsible for analyzing huge amounts of data and transforming it into biologically meaningful information that other scientists can understand and interpret to gain new biological insights.
“Biomedical research has advanced rapidly during the past decade,” said Chen. “Now, with the human microbiome quite well defined, we are on the verge of getting a first-hand look at these intimate ‘partners’ of the human body. Some of these microorganisms cause infectious diseases and some upset the composition of a normal healthy microbiome.” Chen is working to decode the clues found in the data derived from the microbiome, so that we can understand more about health and disease. Chen also leads Forsyth’s effort to build and maintain the first human body site microbiome database – the “Human Oral Microbiome Database” (HOMD – http://www.homd.org). The tools and data in the HOMD have been used for the past decade by scientists worldwide for studying the human oral microorganisms.
Chen is also focusing on the “multi-omics” aspects of oral microbiology. “Omics” refers to the study of the “entirety” of various types of bio-molecules of an organism using modern high-throughput analytic technology. The bio-molecules that can be measured in this manner include DNA (genomics), RNA (transcriptomics), proteins (proteomics), and metabolites (metabolomics). All of these “omic” studies generate enormous amounts of computer data and require much more time analyzing than generating them. Hence, the field of bioinformatics is playing a pivotal role in contemporary multi-omics research.