UGA geneticist Jessica Kissinger recently received a Brazilian Special Visiting Professor Award from Brazil’s national science research agency, the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, as part of its “Science Without Borders” program. The award will help Kissinger and her South American colleagues expand and integrate genomic tropical disease research into a database used by scientists throughout the world.
The professorship follows nearly 20 years of collaboration between Kissinger and Guilherme Oliveira, a researcher at the Centro de Pesquisas René Rachou—FIOCRUZ. The two met during Kissinger’s postdoctoral training at FIOCRUZ, the most prominent science and technology health institution in Latin America, where they shared a deep interest in technology, bioinformatics and data mining.
“It’s nice to see how a friendship and fondness for computers and genomics evolved into a career-long collaboration and commitment to training the next generation of infectious disease researchers in the newest technologies,” said Kissinger, who is also a member of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases and director of the Institute of Bioinformatics.
In the past 10 years, Kissinger and Oliveira have provided extended training to 24 Brazilian pre- and post-doctoral scholars and short courses to more than 500 students through a National Institutes of Health training grant.
One of the most significant outcomes of this partnership was the creation of SchistoDB, a rich resource of genomic data for blood flukes in the genus Schistosoma, which cause disease in millions of people worldwide.
As part of her new professorship, Kissinger will provide training and expertise to Brazilian researchers to expand SchistoDB to include data from all flatworms and fully incorporate these organisms into the NIH-funded Bioinformatics Resource Center for Eukaryotic Pathogens at EuPathDB.org.
This incorporation will allow the global scientific community to freely access genomes and new data about organisms that cause myriad diseases. The partnership also will add new data to existing EuPathDB.org databases for diseases like leishmaniasis, Chagas’ disease and malaria.
“The inclusion of flatworm parasites into the EuPathDB family of databases will provide a new suite of tools to a community of parasite researchers that is not adequately served by model organism databases because of extreme evolutionary divergence,” Kissinger said.
Kissinger will spend up to two months each year in residence to provide in-depth training and to strengthen the collaboration. The award also will sponsor a Brazilian postdoctoral researcher and three graduate students. Each graduate student will spend a year at UGA, where they will receive training from team members in Kissinger’s research group. Kissinger’s professorship adds to the growing number of UGA-Brazilian collaborations, including UGA’s Portuguese Flagship Program, which provides UGA students with an immersion into the culture and language.
“I’m excited to contribute to the growing interest in Brazil and UGA’s Portuguese Flagship Program,” Kissinger said. “Being fluent in Portuguese myself, I’m thrilled that others at UGA will be exposed to the beauty of this language and culture.”