Athens, Ga. — Jan Mrázek, an assistant professor of microbiology and bioinformatics at the University of Georgia, has been selected by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities to receive a 2007 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award.
Mrázek was one of 30 researchers selected from 93 applicants for the award.
The ORAU award provides $5,000 that is matched by the awardee’s home institution, bringing the total award amount to $10,000. Mrázek will use the funds to design software and a Web-based user interface to help researchers find anomalies in the distribution of short DNA sequences in prokaryotes (microbes that lack a nucleus).
The awards are given to full-time assistant professors at ORAU member institutions in five areas: engineering and applied science; life sciences; mathematics/computer sciences; physical sciences; and policy, management or education.
Mrázek won in the area of life sciences for his proposal “Prototype Software Environment for Ab initio Discovery and Interpretation of Functional Motifs in DNA Sequences.”
“The assumption is that if a DNA sequence is unusual in a statistical sense, the chances are that it has some biological function,” Mrázek said. For example, he explained, if a sequence is found to occur at a statistically high level near genes known to be responsible for a particular cellular process, then that sequence may play a role in that process.
“It’s really a tool that can help you generate hypotheses about the physiological roles of DNA sequences that you can then go and test.”
The software will also help microbiologists to design experiments, added Mrázek. For example, it can help users to design methods to distinguish different bacterial strains or to identify sequences suitable for use in replicating specific segments of DNA.
Mrázek earned his Ph.D. in 1992 at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, Institute of Biophysics, Brno, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). He came to UGA in 2005.
ORAU is a consortium of 98 doctoral-granting colleges and universities and 13 associate institutions that promotes research alliances both among its members and with government agencies and private industry. ORAU also oversees the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education for the U.S. Department of Energy.