Anna M. Battenhouse
Anna Battenhouse is a Dean’s Honored Graduate from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and will graduate with a degree in biochemistry. She is being recognized for her superior academic performance earning her a perfect 4.00 GPA and her prolific research endeavors in the laboratory of Professor Vishy Iyer, which led to six articles in prestigious research journals.
Anna’s research in the Iyer lab is in the area of functional genomics, which seeks to understand the complex interactions between genes, transcription factor binding, chromatin state, and the differential gene expression that underlies eukaryotic cell differentiation, response to external stimuli and many disease states. One of the major surprises in biology after the human genome was sequenced in 2000 was that the number of protein-coding genes is only around 22,000. Given that nematode worms have 19,000, it is clear that complexity is not purely a function of genome size. Rather, it has become increasingly clear that sophisticated regulatory programs interact with genomic modularity to give rise to the complexity of vertebrate cells. While all cells have essentially the same DNA (genes), it is evidently regulation that causes different genes to be turned on (expressed) or off at different times (e.g. during fetal development), places (e.g. cells in different body tissues and organs), and contexts (e.g. in response to environmental stimuli).
Anna returned to college to study biology after earning a BA in English literature from Carleton College and years of working in the software industry; her successes at the University of Texas are testament to the lifelong nature of learning and to her courage to seek new challenges. Her fascination with learning was evident immediately to Professor Iyer, who taught Anna in BIO325 Genetics class. Within a few lectures, Anna demonstrated a sophisticated mastery of the subject and was invited to come work in Professor Iyer’s lab. There, she was able to combine her experience in software development and her interest in biology to make contributions in the area of functional genomics, proteomics, and systems biology. She took over the management of the lab’s databases of microarrays (DNA chips), and helped teams of researchers with their data analyses. As new technologies such as next-generation sequencing overtook the use of microarrays, Anna was instrumental in understanding the tools of next-gen data analysis, data formats, and platforms, allowing the lab to exploit this new technology rapidly and effectively. Several of her efforts are now utilized by a consortium of researchers known as the ENCODE consortium. Her research led to six different journal publications, including one in the prestigious journal Science and one in Nature.
Anna has played a significant role in the mentoring of other students in the Iyer lab, and has conducted many tutorial sessions in programming, databases, and statistics to undergraduate and graduate students. She served as a teaching assistant for a course offered by GSAF and the SSC, and has been offering tutorials for lab members on how to use the vast computational resources of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), a national facility on the University of Texas campus.
Anna is already pursuing her post-graduation plans – she is working as a research biologist in the laboratory of Professor Vishy Iyer. She plans to continue her second-career passion and stay at the University of Texas. For her book selection, she’s chosen the academically appropriate Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E. T. Jaynes.