Q&A with Gosia Trynka
The full feature profile for Gosia Trynka can be found here
Have the fields of computer science and bioinformatics changed significantly since you started your career? If so, in what ways, and what do you think are the most dramatic changes in the last few years? Oh, it has really changed substantially. When I was doing my PhD, genome wide association studies (GWAS) were just gaining moment. I remember analysing our coeliac disease GWAS data, which we published in 2010 and where we used over 15,000 individuals, it was a really large dataset at the time. Nowadays, in my group we use results from resources such as UK Biobank, with 500,000 individuals with very broad health and lifestyle information. Excitingly, there are ongoing efforts that are sequencing the full genomes of all of the UK Biobank participants. This will be an incredibly rich source of genetic information. Similarly impressive progress has been achieved for other types of genomics data, for example in the same coeliac disease GWAS we used gene expression information form microarrays from over 1,500 individuals. Again, at the time it was a really large gene expression study. Currently, in one of the projects in my group we are analysing transcriptomics data generated from over 700,000 single cells. The changes are across all levels of genetic and genomic information, we have greater ability to detect human genetic variation and we also have the tools to connect this variation with gene expression regulatory programmes with a single cell resolution. It still remains challenging to integrate the different types of genetic and genomic data but we are already gaining valuable insights into health and disease biology. This is critical for advancing translational efforts towards new improved therapies.
Do you have any advice for young women/womxn starting out in academic research careers, especially in computer science, bioinformatics, and STEM? I would say challenge yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone to discover your true scientific passions. I often hear from young women that computational work is not for them, that they do not have the right background. Although, it is our human nature to feel more comfortable in familiar territories, unfortunately that is also setting our limits. I had an incredible luck that my PhD advisor, Prof. Cisca Wijmenga, threw me onto some ambitious computational projects, projects that terrified me at the time as I was convinced I did not have the right expertise, even lacked the basic computational skills. I was a molecular biologist after all! As I took on those projects I quickly picked up the necessary skills and learnt to really love the analytical way of approaching biological problems. Genomic technologies are evolving so rapidly that one really cannot stay in their comfort zone for very long. So approach new problems with open mind and curiosity and see where it takes you.
As the Experimental Science Director of Open Targets, do you think the future of bioinformatics and population genomics will involve bigger and broader collaborations between academia and industry?
Absolutely! It will take us too long to do it on our own, there is a lot of synergistic expertise and capabilities across academia and industry and when combined they really accelerates the scientific progress. It is not only about academic and industry collaborations, we also need more interdisciplinary collaborations, the biology is very complex and requires a mix of expertise to advance our knowledge rapidly. I think the COVID-19 pandemic is an exception example of how fast we can make a progress when we join forces across all fields.